Treatment of child suspects in Garda custody


A child is defined as a person under 18 years of age, under criminal law in Ireland.

As children are deemed vulnerable due to their age and level of maturity, the law has special provisions which protect the personal rights of child suspects while they are being detained in Garda stations.

These laws place special duties or obligations on the Gardaí in their dealings with child suspects while in the Garda station.

You can read more about children and the age of criminal responsibility.

The law on the treatment of child suspects

The treatment of child suspects while in Garda stations is found in Part 6 of the Children Act 2001 .

Offences a child can be arrested or detained for

Children under 12 years of age cannot be arrested and detained in a Garda station unless the offence is one of the following:

  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Rape
  • Aggravated sexual assault

In any other situation where a Garda has reasonable grounds for believing that a child under 12 years of age has committed an offence, the Garda must bring the child to the child’s parents or guardian.

These laws are found under Section 53 of the Children Act 2001.

Treatment of suspects aged under 18

At all times during the investigation of an offence where a child is a suspect, the child should be treated with dignity appropriate to their age and capacity by Gardaí.

However, Gardaí are allowed to take necessary steps to prevent any escape from custody and remain under a duty to properly investigate any alleged crime.

Separation of children from adults in Garda stations

When a child is detained in a Garda station it is the duty of the Garda in charge of the station to ensure that, as far as possible, the child is not allowed meet with or associate with adult suspects being detained in the station at the same time.

Children are usually not kept in a cell unless there is no other safe or secure accommodation available.

Notice to be given to a child when brought to a Garda station

When a child suspect is brought to a Garda station, it is the duty of the Garda in charge to tell the child, without delay in a way that the child understands:

  • The details of the crime for which they are detained
  • That they are entitled to consult a solicitor and
  • That their parents or guardian have been or are being notified

Contacting another adult relative

If the parents or guardian cannot be contacted, or if they simply refuse to attend the Garda station, then the child must be informed that they can nominate another adult relative or other adult to be informed. Any such person (parent, guardian or other nominated person) will be asked to attend the Garda station without delay.

Tusla representative

If the Garda in charge believes the child may be in need of care or protection, they must also request the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) to send a representative to the station as soon as possible.

Notifying the child’s solicitor

When a child who is detained has asked for a solicitor, the Garda in charge must notify that solicitor as soon as possible.

If the solicitor cannot be contacted or is unwilling or unable to attend, the child must be told and allowed to ask for another solicitor. This solicitor must then be notified by the Gardaí.

If the child requests a solicitor but doesn’t know one or doesn’t name one specifically, then the Garda in charge gives the child the name of a number of solicitors who are willing to attend the Garda station.

The parents or guardian or other relative are all also entitled to ask for a solicitor on behalf of the child.

Interviewing children in Garda stations

Presence of parent, guardian or nominated adult

A child may not be interviewed or asked to give a written statement unless they are in the presence of their parent, guardian or other nominated adult. This is provided under Section 61 of the Children Act 2001.

Interviewing a child without an adult present

However, if the Gardaí believe a delay in questioning a child suspect would involve:

  • A risk of death or injury
  • Serious loss of or damage to property
  • Destruction of or interference with evidence, or
  • The escape of accomplices

Then the Garda in charge of the station can authorise the questioning of the child or the taking of a written statement in the absence of a parent or guardian. This is not a common practice, however, and very serious circumstances must exist before the Garda in charge would allow it.

Removing an adult during Garda questioning of a child

The Garda in charge can also remove the nominated adult during the questioning of a child suspect or during the taking of a written statement if:

  • The parent or guardian is the victim of, or has been arrested in connection with, the offence being investigated
  • The Garda in charge suspects the parent or guardian of being involved in the offence, or
  • The Garda in charge believes the parent or guardian would be likely to obstruct the course of justice if they were present during the interview of the child or during the taking of a written statement from the child.

Interviewing a child without an adult present

If the Gardaí propose to question a child in the absence of a parent or guardian, they must try and arrange for another parent, relative or other responsible person to be present during the interview.

If you are over 18, the Garda Síochána are entitled to interview you if you have been arrested, charged and cautioned in Ireland. Read more about Garda interviews generally.

When a child is charged with an offence

If the Gardaí decide to charge a child with the offence, they detained the child the child is charged on a charge sheet.

A charge sheet is a document which contains:

  • Details of the offence
  • The name of the Garda who is prosecuting
  • The name of the person being charged

After the child is charged with the offence, the parents or guardian present is given a copy of the charge sheet.

Court details

The Garda in charge of the station must make sure that details of the time, date and place of the child’s first appearance in court are given to the parents or guardian as soon as possible.

The parents or guardian must also be told of their obligation to attend the court.

If a parent, guardian or adult is not present

Where the child’s parents or guardian are not present in the Garda station when the child is being charged, the Garda in charge must make sure that they get the following information as soon as possible:

  • A copy of the charge sheet
  • Details of the time, date and place of the child’s first court appearance

They must also be informed of both the names of:

  • Any adult who attended the Garda station at the request of the child
  • Any solicitor and their address who may have visited the child while in custody in the Garda station.

Summonses to court for a child

The Gardaí may decide to summons a child to appear in court for an alleged offence. (This is mostly done in less serious cases involving minor crimes).

The child’s parents or guardian may be named on the summons and, if they are named, they must attend at the sitting of the court stated in the summons.

Release on bail by a member of the Garda Síochána

When a child is charged with a criminal offence, the Garda in charge of the station may direct that the child be brought before the next available sitting of the Children Court. This could involve the child staying in the custody of the Gardaí until the following morning.

Alternatively, the Garda in charge may release the child from custody on bail to appear at a sitting of the Children Court within 30 days. This is done by requiring the child to enter into a recognisance with or without sureties to appear in court at a future date.

What does “entering into a recognisance” mean?

A recognisance is a pledge or promise made and signed by the child, or by the child and the parents or guardian, that the child and possibly the parent or guardian will appear in court on the date requested.

The recognisance might be made with a surety attached. A surety is a promise to pay a sum of money to ensure that the child appears in court in addition to making the promise to appear in court. If the child fails to appear, then the sum of money is lost and must be paid over to the State.

While a surety is a promise of money, the Garda in charge may accept a deposit of money in cash from the parents or guardian to ensure that the child appears in court. This money is returned when the child’s case is finally dealt with or the judge decides to reduce or change the terms of the bail.

You can get more information on the consequences of breaching bail terms .

Page edited: 23 May 2024