How parents whose children are accused of crime are dealt with must change, say senior legal practitioners.
For example, parents should be accommodated overnight at garda stations.
Solicitor Brian Keenan of Keenan Fitzgerald told the ‘My Lawyer, My Rights’ seminar this week that parents can be confused as to whether they have automatic access to a lawyer if their child is arrested.
“I have attended in stations where a child has required a lawyer and parents are saying ‘I don’t have money to pay for a lawyer’,” said Mr Keenan.
Those cases are covered by legal aid, but he said that, in some garda stations, the C72 forms — informing people of their rights — are not up-to-date.
Mr Keenan also said that there should be provision, where possible, to allow parents or guardians to stay overnight at garda stations if their children are being detained, while he also questioned the overlap of criminal and welfare issues when it comes to children, such as crimes committed by children in care or in a care facility.
As for the juvenile diversion programme, Mr Keenan said that more children should benefit from programmes that divert them from court, but that there is “inconsistency” in how it is applied.
He said that a child might receive four or five cautions, before they are brought before court, but, in exceptional cases, a child might rack up 20 or more cautions before facing a court.
“Children should not be given the impression that if they keep getting cautions, they will stay out of court,” Mr Keenan told the Irish Examiner.
He also said a more child-friendly environment would be preferable, as the current Children’s Court in Dublin lacks privacy, while he said a delay between arrest, questioning, and referral to a diversion programme is also potentially harmful.
Speakers at the ‘My Lawyer, My Rights’ seminar, held in Dublin and organised by the Child Law Clinic in University College Cork, included Judge John O’Connor, Ursula Kilkelly of UCC’s Centre for Children’s Rights and Family Law, and Shauneen Lambe, a director of the British-based Just for Kids Law London.
Barrister Niall Nolan told the seminar that “the greater the distance between allegation and resolution, the greater the risk of prejudice”, adding that it also makes prosecuting, representing the client, and even judging the case more difficult.
He also said “delayed and piecemeal disclosure hinders effective representation” and also said that, in some instances, children had been interviewed when it might be inappropriate to do so.
“Often, I am concerned that decisions made by doctors called by gardaí, who certify children as fit for interview, follow a more perfunctory than thorough assessment,” said Mr Nolan.
The seminar was part of the pan-European ‘My Lawyer My Rights’ project, led by Defence for Children International-Belgium and co-funded by the European Commission Criminal Justice Programme. The Child Law Clinic at the Centre for Children’s Rights and Family Law in UCC is the Irish partner.
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