Delay in youth justice system ‘hindering rehabilitation’

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

neurological differences

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.