Earlier this year James* stood outside district court with his social worker, trying to keep warm.
It was wet and cold and passersby saw him and his fellow courtiers waiting. The Covid-19 restrictions meant everyone would have to wait outside until their case was called.
There were many names in the list ahead of James. His social worker asked a staff member if there was a possibility to reach out to his case. Probably no, the answer was, but they had to be there just in case.
This was the 22-year-old’s 13th court appearance in October 2018 after being accused of possessing €10 worth of cannabis; A Garda had caught him and a friend smoking a joint in a parked car in south Dublin.
His case did not reach. Instead it was postponed for the 14th and later for the 15th time. James is due back in court this month. Despite a guilty plea and 14 court appearances over a period of three years, the case is nowhere close to finalisation.
This isn’t even James’s oldest outstanding case. Another allegation, of his fingerprints being found on a stolen car, dates back to 2015, when he was 14 years old.
“He feels like giving up,” says his social worker. “He thinks he’ll never get out from under it.”
James is not an angel. He has several previous crimes, mostly cannabis-related, and has spent some time in custody. But, as per his arrest records, he is not in trouble for two years. His social worker says that these days he mainly spends 10 hours sitting in his room on his PlayStation.
series of delays
He is one of many youth caught in an endless series of delays in the youth justice system, says Aisling Golden, justice program manager for the Solus Project, which supports youth in the justice system.
“We say to these young people, ‘This is how you do it, this is how you work it.’ And we are being proven wrong. All these delays are proving to young people that the system doesn’t work,” says Golden, who previously worked for the Garda Youth Diversion Project and with gang members in Boston. Huh.
“This sense of hopelessness kicks in. They feel like they can’t win and they ask ‘What the f**king point?’
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Ireland, states that children facing criminal charges have the right to be “determined without delay”.
This is largely not happening in Ireland. And this is not a new problem. Four research studies conducted in 2005–2010 found delays in court listings and the general use of adjournments were common in children’s courts.
“It is clear that the time currently involved in processing the cases of young people serves to reduce the effectiveness and severity of the court process and the consequences arising from their abusive behavior,” from the Office of the Minister for Children A 2008 report and Youth Affairs said. “Furthermore, and most seriously, it puts young people at greater risk of re-offending or being detained on remand as a result of a breach of bail.”
A 2019 Justice Department report said delays “remain a challenge” while new youth justice strategies are trying to combat the problem by prioritizing cases involving children and young adults and reducing the number of court appearances they face. promises to
Young people should be treated differently because they are different, at least on a neurological level, says Dr Lewis Ford, a lecturer in law at Brunel Law School who has extensively studied the Irish youth justice system.
“We know that one of the reasons why adolescents and young adults suffer at higher rates is because of issues related to their development.
“We have had a lot of neurological research coming out over the years that confirm that we already knew that babies are different, that their brains are not yet fully developed, that they need to be exposed to the risks of particular tasks. Have less understanding and are more likely to act in a way that pleases peers.
“All of this means that crime tends to peak with adolescents and young adults and then decrease as youth reach full maturity in their mid-20s.”
Ford says extended court delays can seriously affect a child’s mental well-being. It can also have serious legal consequences. If convicted, those under the age of 18 enjoy the full presumptions of the Children’s Act, including the right to anonymity and a greater chance of receiving a non-custodial sentence.
However, if they turn 18 while waiting for finalization, they lose almost all protection. He would also be sent to an adult prison with more violence, more drugs and far less emphasis on education than Oberstown, the state’s only juvenile detention facility.
Delays are also bad for society, says Ford, because they mean a young person is less likely to be deterred from committing a crime in the future, whatever the punishment given. “The longer it takes, the more likely it is that the response will lose the desired outcome. This is because you are breaking the temporal connection between the event and the outcome.”
due to delay
The reasons for delays in the youth justice system are varied. According to the data of the Court Service, the preliminary hearing in the child court can be held in a few months.
The main chokepoints occur later in the process, for example, with Gardai unable to present witnesses on a particular date. Defendants or their lawyers often seek an adjournment themselves, especially if the charges are serious.
An attorney who frequently works for young offenders says, “If they know they are very likely to receive a custodial sentence, they will generally want to take it back for as long as possible to have more freedom.” “
According to social workers and young people interviewed by The Irish Times, some of the biggest reasons for the delay may lie with the judges themselves.
In James’ cannabis case, many adjournments are because the judge has requested some sort of report or mandated that James make some sort of restitution.
On court orders he has taken courses in the dangers of drugs and driving (because the crime took place in a car) and donated it to a hospital.
James voluntarily went on a residential drug treatment for cannabis addiction, but left when a close family member died. Now the judge has told her that she will have to take the course again before her case is finalised.
“Even the guards are shocked that it is being dragged like this,” said a social worker. James has joked that he would campaign faster to legalize cannabis rather than wait for his case to end. “I’m stuck in a rut right now,” he says.
Solicitor Gareth Noble, who specializes in children’s law, says the number of adjournments in a case is often up to the judge, with some seeing it as part of the process, so that the young person “thinks twice next time”.
According to Prof. Ursula Kilkley, Chair of the Oberstown Board of Management, Courts, the judges “give children the benefit of the doubt to allow children to adjust behavior, to line up, to comply with conditions, to work with probation. All of this.” Good. All this can cause delay.
“It’s a tough issue, knowing when to make a decision, knowing where to shut things down and finalize a set of accusations and give young people a chance to change their behaviour.”
In 2017, Colm* (23) was charged with handling stolen property. As he says, he is innocent. He had gone to meet his friend on a stolen bicycle. A Garda finds them and charges to handle the two.
Despite maintaining his innocence, Colm had originally planned to plead guilty after being told by his lawyer that he was likely to receive a sentence of two or three months. His girlfriend was pregnant and he wanted to go out on time to help with the baby.
However, after finding out that the case would be adjourned anyway, I have opted to plead not guilty. Even after a lapse of more than four years, the matter is yet to be finalised. It was recently postponed until September 2022 when Colm’s child will turn three.
He has not been in trouble with Gardai since the birth of his child and now plans to receive an apprenticeship. But the outstanding court proceedings cast a shadow.
“I want to start a full time job, and get the papers behind me because I’m a dad. But if I was starting the job on Monday I might have to ask my boss if I take Thursday off Because I have to go to court.
“It makes you feel like crap. Because they’re already staring at you when you go into the job.”
Golden says that in her work she sees two reactions to repeated delays in matters. “There’s one they say ‘Screw it, I’m going to continue a little bit of Bolix,’ and that’s not good for anyone.
“Or they get depressed and say ‘I’m not going out, I can’t get a job because my life is just going to get messy again.'”
Another big problem, says Golden, is the kids coming out of Oberstown, who are still owed fees. This is despite official guidance that, as much as possible, kids should leave Oberstown with a clean slate. A youth activist says she has seen a young man in detention in a situation with no incentive to improve themselves, knowing they will come out of detention to go back again.
This is a special complaint from Noble which says it is hopeless when young people are charged a week before being released from custody or until a young person has finished a case in Children’s Court, the next The charge is not brought. Conditions. “And then trying to motivate the young person to incorporate and abide by those terms can be very difficult.”
A case management system should bring all young people’s allegations together so that they can be dealt with quickly and efficiently, says Kilkeli.
“But of course what happens is that a young person spends time in custody, does really well with support and development and makes good progress to go back out and live creatively, and then the charges are processed further.” and this results in further sanction of detention.”
There is a public interest in investigating the allegations and prosecuting them appropriately, says Kilkley. One of the great challenges of youth justice is finding a balance with the needs of the young person.
She adds that one of the barriers to an efficient case management system is that crimes are sometimes dealt with under the jurisdiction of different courts, which means that a single judge may not have the power to deal with all charges. Is.
“One of the definitions of a child-friendly system of justice is speedy justice. It is in the best interest of the individual to move forward and play a positive role in their community.”
She says one area the government can consider is to step up the Protection of Children Act, so that even if a case is delayed, a young delinquent faces the full rigors of the law at the age of 18. Don’t have to
“The whole field of emerging adults believes that 18 is actually a very arbitrary cut-off and that vulnerability and lack of development exist until 20s.”
“In cases where there have been delays, providing an additional year’s buffer” would be really important to look at from a law standpoint, says Kilkley.
“Time is not a child’s friend,” she adds. “And especially not in criminal cases.”
*Names of youth have been changed before the courts