Young man allegedly involved in Oberstown rooftop protest loses challenge over delay in prosecution

Oberstown Children Detention Campus

A young man who was allegedly involved in rooftop protest at a youth detention centre - when a fire was started which caused significant damage - has lost a High Court challenge to a delay in prosecuting him.

Mr Justice Garreth Simons said there was no culpable or blameworthy proseuctorial delay in the case of the man who faces four charges arising out of the disturbance on August 29, 2016, at Oberstown Children Detention Campus near Lusk in north county Dublin.

The judge also said it was surprising that the Children Act 2001 does not expressly address this recurring issue which occurs when alleged offenders have transitioned from being children to adults between when the offences were committed and when hearing of the charges against them takes place.

"It would have been helpful if the legislation indicated what is to happen in such circumstances", he said.

The man in this case was 17 at the time he was allegedly one of a eight detainees who got on to the roof of buildings in the complex. They caused serious damage to tiles before setting a fire, as darkness fell, to the roof of one accommodation block. Attempts by firefighters to put it out were met with missile throwing.

After the riot was over, a garda investigation followed. More than a year later, October 2017, the now young man was charged.

In his High Court challenge, the man, who cannot be named, claimed the failure to prosecute him before he reached 18 meant he had lost certain protections he enjoyed under the Children Act.

These included that he could not be named and that any period of detention which he might receive if found guilty would only be imposed as a last resort. He would have to be subject to a mandatory probation report if found guilty as a child.

The DPP opposed the challenge.

Mr Justice Simons said the principal prejudice suffered by him as a result of the alleged proseuctorial delay was the loss of the benefit of reporting restrictions (naming him in publicity).

The loss of other protections afforded to children, including detention being imposed as a last resort, did not represent any real prejudice. In the event of him being convicted, a custodial sentence is likely, the judge said.

Similarly, the loss of a mandatory probation report was not significant and a trial judge would have discretion to seek such a report anyway.

In performing the balancing exercise of rights as provided for by the Supreme Court in another case, it was necessary to weigh this prejudice against the public interest in the prosecution of the offences.

There were a number of aspects to this case which favoured allowing the prosecution proceed, including that he was 17 at the time and that he offences are very serious. One of them, the arson charge, carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, he said.

The judge said the reporting restriction on the publication of his name would continue until such time as it may be set aside in any appeal of his decision.

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