The lack of suitable facilities for the interviewing of children by gardaí and the need to use language minors can understand during questioning have been raised as key issues by academics.
In the first study of its type, researchers attached to University College Cork said it was “extremely concerning” that children spoken to reported mistreatment during Garda questioning – and said this had to be addressed as a “matter of urgency”.
The report, Children’s Rights and Police Questioning, was published by the Policing Authority and carried out by Professor Ursula Kilkelly and Dr Louise Forde of the Centre for Children’s Rights and Family Law at the School of Law, UCC.
The research, described as a “small-scale" study, involved interviews with 20 children aged 14-18 as well nine gardaí, four solicitors, three parents and adults.
Launching the report, authority chairman Bob Collins said: “The authority welcomes this significant contribution to the knowledge of how children and young people experience interacting with the Garda Síochána.
“The study offers an important and original insight into children’s experiences of their rights during police questioning and offers recommendations for how these rights might be better protected. We hope that it will help inform policing service delivery into the future, for one of the most vulnerable group in society.”
The report highlighted some key issues:
- Children being interviewed by gardaí are particularly vulnerable and need to be treated in a child-friendly way and with age-appropriate language;
- Some children had negative experiences of being detained in Garda custody prior to or during interviews;
- The absence of suitable facilities in Garda stations was a concern, highlighting that priority needs to be given to improving facilities;
- Children’s exercise of their right to legal advice and assistance is a concern in light of their ability to waive their right to a lawyer;
- Special measures should be taken in the case of children with additional vulnerabilities or learning difficulties;
- The experience of the child being interviewed can vary depending on the approach of the individual member of the Garda Síochána and measures should be adopted to promote consistent good practice;
- All professionals who work with children – both members of the Garda Síochána and lawyers who advise children – require additional specialist training
The authors said allegations of ill-treatment by gardaí, including both physical and verbal abuse, were a matter of serious concern, requiring urgent attention.
It said that it was “extremely concerning” that children they spoke to reported mistreatment during questioning.
“Concrete steps – including strengthening supervision, training, and monitoring mechanisms – are needed to underscore and ensure adherence to a zero-tolerance approach towards all forms of violence and ill-treatment in the Garda Síochána,” the report said.
“Children’s effective access to independent complaints mechanisms should also be supported through the provision of age-appropriate information at Garda Síochána stations.”