A 16-year-old boy has today been given leave to bring a constitutional challenge to the practice of detaining minors in St Patrick's Institution.
The detention centre, which is part of the Mountjoy Prison complex, holds male prisoners aged from 16 to 21, while a child is defined in Irish law as a person under the age of 18. Minors were committed to St Patrick’s Institution on 262 occasions in 2012 and last year Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan called for the cessation of holding juveniles there.
The UN Committee Against Torture has also said the State should build a national children detention facility.
On January 31, at the Dublin Children's Court the boy who has launched the test case had been detained in St Patrick's Institution for seven months following his conviction for a motor-theft related offence.
His lawyer had indicated in the juvenile court that a legal action was being prepared to challenge the detention of juveniles in a facility where adult offenders are also held.
Clearing the way for a constitutional challenge, the boy's lawyers secured leave from Mr Justice Michael Peart in the High Court earlier this week to bring a judicial review against the State on the issue.
In a sworn document setting out the grounds for the action, the teen's solicitor Gareth Noble argued that the practice of detaining juvenile prisoners in the same environment as adults was in breach of the boy's constitutional rights and gender equality laws as well as being incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The lawyer has claimed that the boy's rights are recognised under international human rights laws and that he should be detained in a penal institution particularly designed for the detention of children.
Such an institution should provide sufficient social, psychological and educational support to assist in the rehabilitation of a child.
The teenager at the centre of the case is being detained with adults up to the age of 21 and there is no real difference between a period of detention there and a term of imprisonment, it was also claimed.
From the age of nine the teenager, who is from Dublin, had been placed in care of the HSE and later put into foster homes and care facilities.
He has been assessed as having a low range of intellectual potential and suffering from a learning disability, and has also been found to have mental health problems.
Since 2010, he started getting arrested on various charges including criminal damage, trespass, public order and motoring offences.
He is being held in a part of St Patrick's Institution where there are 14 other inmates, of whom he is the youngest while the oldest detainee in his unit is aged 20.
In the grounds for bringing the judicial review, the boy's lawyers have also argued that female children of the same age are treated differently and not detained with adult female prisoners.