Crime records ‘should be cleared at 18’

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald

The head of the new Child and Family Agency (CFA) has said he believes all, bar the most serious crimes, should be wiped from a young person’s criminal record when they turn 18.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Irish Examiner as part of our investigation on the placing of Irish children in overseas care facilities, Gordon Jeyes also said plans to double the number of secure care places in the next two years would provide sufficient cover, and “it would be dangerous to be planning on the basis of locking more children up”.

He said the CFA planned to seriously curtail legal expenditure on care cases which go before the courts and denied there was a lengthy waiting list for secure care places.

Mr Jeyes said his views on the expunging of many offences from a young person’s criminal record was “a bit more radical and personal”.

“I think the age of criminal responsibility should be 18. Now, I can just hear the shock, horror across the country, and clearly for very serious crimes — murder, rape, aggravated assault and those sort of things — you would exempt those, but the argument is always put that we don’t want them going through the criminal justice system because it gives them a criminal record. There is an easy answer to that: For a whole list of offences, small, petty offences, growing-up offences, at 18 you wipe the slate clean. If they don’t have a full set of rights they shouldn’t have the full set of responsibilities. We should have a holistic approach where needs and deeds are dealt with together.”

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald agreed the idea was “radical” but did not suggest it was likely.

Mr Jeyes said the courts system involving child care cases was “too adversarial” and too costly. “For the first time in 2014 as an independent legal entity we are responsible for our own legal costs. There was a flaw, and HSE recognises that, in the previous design, where throughout the HSE people spent the money — we all like spending other people’s money, and therefore the budgetary control was not what it should be.”

On overseas placements, he said he did not like the model used in Boys Town in the US, where one Irish child is currently staying and which has had a number of Irish children over the years, claiming, “it’s one thing to be going into the neighbouring country, it’s another thing to be going four and a half thousand miles”.

“The vast majority of Irish young people should be able to get the services they require in Ireland.”

* Supported by the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund.

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