The principal legislation governing youth justice in Ireland is the Children Act 2001. When the District Court is sitting in this capacity it is known as the Children Court.

Children Court

Children Court

In the eyes of the law a ‘child’ is a person under 18 years of age. While the age of criminal responsibility in most cases is 12 years, a child aged 10 or 11 years of age may be charged with murder, manslaughter, rape and aggravated sexual assault. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) must consent to any charges brought against children under 14.

The Children Court deals with all charges against children in respect of minor offences and may deal with an indictable offence (an offence that carries the right to a trial by jury) where the child consents. If the Children Court judge thinks that the offence with which the child has been charged is not a minor offence, or that the offence is one which should be dealt with in the Central Criminal Court, it may not deal with the charge against the child. In practice, the Children Court deals with the majority of indictable charges against children.

In Dublin there is a separate Children Court in Smithfield which sits each working day to deal with youth justice matters within the Dublin Metropolitan area. Sittings of the Children Court at venues outside of Dublin are often held in the courtrooms where the ordinary sittings of the District Court are held, but on different days or at different times. As far as possible, persons attending the Children Court should not be brought into contact with persons attending a sitting of another court.

The Children Court is a private court. As a result, there is a restriction on who may be present in the courtroom during any sittings of the court. However, the following persons are permitted in the courtroom during proceedings:

  • the parents or guardian of the child concerned,
  • officers of the court,
  • persons directly concerned with the proceedings,
  • bona fide representatives of the press, and
  • any other persons that the court may permit to remain, at its discretion.

The Children Act 2001 requires the parents or guardian of the child concerned to attend any court proceedings involving their child, unless the court is of the opinion that it would not be in the interest of justice that they should attend court. Where the parents or guardian are not in attendance, an adult relative of the child or another adult representative may be present in the courtroom.

As Children Court proceedings are held in private, no reporting of details that might identify the child is allowed.  There are criminal penalties for breaching this rule.

  1. the parents
  2. officers
  3. persons