The Children Act, 2001 created the Children Court, formerly known as the Juvenile Court. The Children Court deals with children under 18 years of age and came into operation in 2002. The following information sets out the various rules regarding the Children Court, including the types of cases heard before it, privacy, in-camera rules, etc. There are also important rules regarding the age of criminal responsibility, particularly as they relate to children.
Operation of the Children Court
The creation of the Children Court by the 2001 Act has attempted to separate court proceedings involving children from those which involve adults. In general, the Children Court takes place in the District Court building but under Section 71(1)(b) of the 2001 Act should take place in a different room or building, or on a different day or time from other courts. Indeed, judges who sit in the Children Court are required to undergo special training or education as deemed necessary by the President of the District Court. (This does not apply to judges, who were appointed to the District Court before 15 December, 1995). All of the measures contained in the 2001 Act which relate to children and the Children Court are designed in the interest of the child and attempt to ensue that the Children Court operates in a way which has regard to the needs and sensitivities of the children concerned.
Types of cases heard in the Children Court
The Children Court has the power to deal with most criminal offences which have been committed by children. Hearings for all minor offences are held in the Children Court, as are most serious (indictable) offences.
Certain offences may not, however, be heard by the Children Court. The crime of manslaughter, for example, must be dealt with in the Central Criminal Court. This is provided for by Section 75 (1) of the Children Act, 2001. In all non-minor offences where a child has been brought before the Children Court the child must be given a choice by the judge (if the judge decides to keep the matter in that court) as to whether the child wants to have the case heard in the Children Court or to go before a judge and jury. The child may seek the assistance of a parent or guardian in making such a decision.
Under Bunreacht na hEireann (the Irish Constitution) a child has a right to be tried before a jury for non-minor offences. The judge however must be willing to hear the non-minor offences in the Children Court before the child is offered the choice of court.
Children and adults charged with the same offences
When a child is charged with a summary/minor offence with one or more adults, the offence should be heard in the Children Court. The adult will be dealt with as if he or she were before the District Court. The Children Court may also decide that both child and adult be dealt with in the District Court. In situations where a child and adult are jointly charged with non-minor offences (indictable offences) the child shall be dealt with by the Children Court as if the child was charged on their own. The adult will be dealt with in the normal way that adults are dealt with by the courts for non-minor offences.
Different rules apply when a child, who is charged with a serious offence which would normally be dealt with by a higher court than the Children Court, pleads guilty to the offences before the judge of the Children Court has sent the case forward to the higher court. In that case, the judge of the Children Court may send the child to the higher court for sentencing only. Before this can happen, however, the child is required to sign a plea of guilty and the court must be satisfied that the child understands the seriousness of the offence and the facts which are alleged against him or her. The consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions must also be given.
Privacy of the Children Court
TheDistrict Court (Children) Rules 2006 places restriction on people entitled to attend a sitting of the Children Court. This is commonly known as the in camera rule. This rule basically prohibits the holding of proceedings in the Children Court in public. If any matter is published or broadcast in breach of these prohibitions the person responsible shall be guilty of an offence.
The following are a list of persons entitled to attend:
- Officers of the court
- The parties and their legal representatives,
- An adult relative of the child or other adult who attends the court in accordance with Section 91 (6) of the 2001 Act
- Such other persons (if any) as the Court may at its discretion permit to remain.
The order or decision of the Court (if any) in any such proceedings are announced in public.