Anti-social behaviour by children
Part 13 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 introduced provisions within the criminal law for dealing with anti-social behaviour by children who are between 12 and 18 years old. These powers allow the Garda Síochána to deal with such anti-social behaviour in a number of ways including:
- Issuing anti-social behaviour warnings to children
- Convening meetings to discuss a child’s anti-social behaviour
- Requesting a child and their parents or guardian to enter into a good behaviour contract and
- Applying to the courts for an anti-social behaviour order in respect of a child (commonly known as an ASBO)
All of these provisions are designed to allow the Gardaí to deal effectively with anti-social behaviour while keeping the child out of the criminal justice system.
The intention of the provisions is to strike a balance between protecting the rights of society while dealing with anti-social behaviour by children.
What is anti-social behaviour?
A child’s behaviour to someone who does not live with them is anti-social if it causes or, in the circumstances, is likly to cause them:
- Harassment or
- Significant or persistent alarm, distress, fear or intimidation or
- Significant or persistent impairment of their use or enjoyment of their property
Examples of anti-social behaviour are intimidation, abusive or threatening behaviour and vandalism.
What is an anti-social behaviour warning?
A Garda can issue an anti-social behaviour warning to any child who has behaved in an anti-social manner.
The Garda may issue the behaviour warning may be issued verbally by the Garda to the child and it must also be served on the child and their parents or guardian in writing. The written notice must include the following:
- A statement that the child has behaved in an anti-social manner
- The type of behaviour and when and where it took place
- A demand that the child cease the behaviour
- A notice that, if the child does not cease the behaviour, an application may be made to the court for an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO)
The Garda Síochána must issue the behaviour warning within 1 month of the time that the behaviour took place. In the case of persistent anti-social behaviour, the warning must be issued within 1 month of the most recent known instance of that behaviour taking place.
A behaviour warning will remain in force against a child for 3 months from the date it is issued. If the child persists in the type of behaviour specified in the warning during the 3 months, an application may be made to the court for an ASBO.
When is a meeting convened to discuss a child's anti-social behaviour?
If a Garda has issued a behaviour warning to a child, the Garda can make a report to the superintendent in charge of the district, outlining the concerns about the child’s behaviour.
The superintendent convenes a meeting to discuss that child’s behaviour if the superintendent is satisfied that the child has behaved in an anti-social manner and is likely to continue doing so, and that the child has previously behaved in an anti-social manner but:
- The child has not received a warning in respect of previous anti-social behaviour
- Holding a meeting would help to prevent further such behaviour by the child
Who attends such a meeting?
The superintendent asks the following people to attend the meeting to discuss the child’s behaviour:
- The child
- The child’s parents or guardian
- The Garda who issued the anti-social behaviour warning to the child
- If the child is already involved in the Juvenile Diversion Programme, a Juvenile Liaison Officer
- Anyone else who it is considered would be of assistance to the child or the child’s parents or guardian
At the meeting, the superintendent explains to the child and the parents or guardian in simple language what the offending behaviour is and the effect it is having on anyone else.
The child is asked to acknowledge that the behaviour took place and to undertake to stop it. The parents or guardian are also asked to acknowledge the child’s behaviour and to undertake to take steps to prevent the behaviour from continuing.
If the child and the parents or guardian agree to give these undertakings, the superintendent prepares a document known as a good behaviour contract.
What is a good behaviour contract?
A good behaviour contract sets down in writing the undertakings or promises given by the child and parents or guardian at the meeting convened to discuss the child's behaviour. It is signed by both the child and the parents or guardian.
The good behaviour contract remains in force for a maximum period of 6 months from the date of the meeting but it may be extended for a further 3 months at the request of the child and the parents or guardian.
What happens if a child breaks the agreement in the good behaviour contract?
If a child behaves in breach of the undertakings in the contract the superintendent may request another meeting to renew the contract if the child and parents or guardian agree to do so. If, however, the superintendent does not believe that another meeting would help to prevent anti-social behaviour by the child concerned, the superintendent may either
- Recommend that the child be admitted to the Juvenile Diversion Programme or
- If satisfied that the child’s participation in the Juvenile Diversion Programme would not be appropriate, apply to the Children Court for a behaviour order in respect of the child.
The superintendent also has these 2 options available if the child or the parents or guardian refuse at the first meeting to sign a good behaviour contract, or if the superintendent decides at the start that calling a meeting would not help to prevent anti-social behaviour by the child.
What is a behaviour order?
An anti-social behaviour order or ASBO is issued by the Children Court when a member of the Garda Síochána (not below the rank of superintendent) applies to the court for an order which prohibits a child of 12 years or above from doing anything specified in the order.
Before the Court makes such a behaviour order it must be satisfied that:
- Even though the child has signed the good behaviour contract or participated in the meeting with the Gardaí, the child has continued to behave in an anti-social way and is likely to continue to do so
- An order is necessary to prevent the child from continuing to behave in that way
- The order is reasonable in the circumstances, taking into account the effect or likely effect of that behaviour on other people
It is open to the court to impose whatever terms or conditions it considers appropriate in the order.
So, for example, the court might include a condition that the child must not come within 50 metres of a certain house where he/she had been causing annoyance or it may order the child to stay away from a certain shopping centre.
The court may also require the child to comply with certain requirements relating to attending school or, indeed, reporting to a garda, teacher or other person in authority.
How long does a behaviour order last?
A behaviour order issued by the Children Court stays in place for a maximum of 2 years from the date of the order. The court has the authority, however, to vary or discharge the order if an application to do so is made by either the child concerned, his/her parents or guardian, or by a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of superintendent.
Can a child appeal against a behaviour order?
Yes, a child against whom a behaviour order has been made can, within 21 days from the date the order was made, appeal against the order to the Circuit Court. If the child or the parents or guardian intend to appeal the order they must give notice of the appeal to the superintendent in charge of the district where the child lives.
Are there any offences relating to behaviour warnings?
When a Garda decides to issue a behaviour warning to a child, the Garda may require the child to give their name and address for the purpose of the behaviour warning or the written record of it. If the child fails to give a name and address or gives a name and address that is false or misleading, then that child commits an offence and will be liable on summary conviction (Children Court) to a class E fine.
Are there any offences relating to behaviour orders?
If a behaviour order has been made against a child by the Children Court and that child, without reasonable excuse does not comply with the behaviour order, that child is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction (Children Court) to a class D fine or detention in a children’s detention school for a period not exceeding 3 months, or both.
If a child is convicted for a breach of a behaviour order and is ordered to pay a fine and the costs of the proceedings, the total of the fine and the costs must not be more than €1,500.
Can a child be granted free legal aid in respect of an application to the court for a behaviour order?
Yes, the child may be granted a certificate for free legal aid, which is known as a Legal Aid (Behaviour Order) Certificate. This legal aid will also be available if the child decides to appeal against the making of the order.
If a child is subject of an application to the Children Court and is not eligible for free legal aid, then the cost of any legal representation on behalf of the child must be paid for by the child or the child’s parents or guardian.
Similarly, while there is no cost for an appeal to the Circuit Court against the making of the order, any legal representation on behalf of the child in that appeal will have to be paid for by the child, the child’s parents or guardian unless the child qualifies for free legal aid.
Where to apply
If you are affected by anti-social behaviour, you should contact your local Garda station. You should supply as much information as possible about the behaviour.