Mrs. Ursula Kilkelly. Professor at the Law Faculty of the University of Cork. Ireland

Mrs. Ursula Kilkelly. Professor at the Law Faculty of the University of Cork. Ireland

Mrs. Ursula Kilkelly. Professor at the Law Faculty of the University of Cork. Ireland

Ursula Kilkelly is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University College Cork in Ireland where she teaches and researches in the areas of children's rights, human rights and youth justice. She is Chairperson of the Irish Penal Reform Trust a charitable organisation that works to promote the rights of persons in detention and a founder-member of the Irish Youth Justice Alliance. Ursula completed her PhD on Children and the European Convention on Human Rights at Queen's University Belfast and has since published widely in these areas in international, Irish and British journals. She has undertaken research funded by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, the Irish Ombudsman for Children and the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and the Social Sciences. In 2007, she was a visiting scholar at Temple University in Philadelphia.

QUESTION.- What is your main interest as a senior lecturer in the juvenile justice field and which are your main researchs and publications regarding juvenile justice?

ANSWER.- My main interest is children’s rights and within that juvenile justice. I also research the European Convention on Human Rights. My main publications are The Child and the ECHR, 1999; The ECHR and Irish Law, 2004 and Youth Justice in Ireland, 2006. I am also completing a text on children’s rights and Irish law, due to be published in 2008. A full list of my publications is available on my website at:

Q.- What is the main objective and the main subjects of the International Conference in Ireland next April?

A.- The main purpose of the conference is to bring together researchers and practitioners from around the world to consider the extent to which international children’s rights standards are being implemented nationally and internationally in the area of youth justice.

Q.- Regarding you publication on ‘Youth Justice in Ireland’ What are the specifics aspects of the juvenile justice system in Ireland compared to other European systems?

A.- The Irish youth justice system is undergoing reform for the first time in almost 100 years. What will not really change is that our system is largely punitive – we prosecute all children over 12 years who are not diverted via the police diversion scheme. Children are tried in the Children’s Court (in camera) for minor offences and the ordinary adult court (it may also be in camera) for more serious offences. A new development is that more constructive measures may now be imposed at different stages of the process (pre and post-conviction) in order to help the child avoid re-offending. These include a family conference and a range of community sanctions designed to ensure that detention is imposed only as a measure of last resort.

Q.- What is the current legislation in force for the penal law on minors in conflict with the law in Ireland? And, what is the penal responsibility age in Ireland?

A.- The principal legislation is the Children Act 2001, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2006.With the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, children aged 10 years can be prosecuted for murder, manslaughter and certain forms of sexual assault, while children over 12 years can be prosecuted for minor offences.

Q.- The adoption of the Children Act 2001 represented a move towards a new legislative framework. It introduced the family conference into Irish criminal law; Can you give us more information about the family conference? And what is its procedure to be able to put it into practice?

A.- The family conference can be organised by the police (as part of the diversion programme), the Health Service Executive (in respect of children at risk) or the Probation Service, in respect of children before the Children’s Court. All conferences aim to bring together the child, his/her parents and anyone else (eg social worker, police officer, teacher, youth worker) in the child’s life who might play a constructive role in the meeting. The victim may also be present. In respect of the Police conference and the Probation conference the meeting aims to develop an action plan to prevent the child from re-offending. The Probation-led family conference is ordered by the court which may dismiss the charges against the child if the action plan is successful in preventing the child from re-offending. If not, the Court can resume proceedings and move to convict and sentence the child. These are all relatively new measures and little research has yet been undertaken as to how they operate in practice or their success.

Q.- Which detention measures can be applied and in which proportion?

A.- Detention is intended as a measure of last resort – the Court must have regard to this principle during sentencing and it may also take youth into account during the sentencing process – but otherwise the only constraint is that the sentence of detention imposed on a child should not be longer than that imposed on an adult for the same offence. Similar to an adult, a life sentence can also be imposed on a child for murder. Moreover, a serious problem is the high rate of children detained on remand (before trial).

Q.- What are the alternative programmes or resources to the deprivation of the minor’s liberty? What are the range of community sanctions to put in to practice?

A.- The Children Act 2001 provides for a range of community-based sanctions designed to ensure that children remain in their homes and in their communities. They include sanctions that combine supervision by a Probation Officer with training and education programmes, intensive supervision or residential supervision. A day centre order requires a child to attend a ‘day centre’ at specific times to undertake training and/or education or leisure activities. Other orders include the appointment of a mentor or special adviser to the child designed to draw on the child’s family’s own resources to influence the child’s behaviour. These sanctions are considerably resource-intensive and as a result, they are being implemented on a gradual basis only. They do not appear to be available in every area as yet.

Q.- What Mental Health (M.H.) resources are available for youth offenders with MH needs in Ireland? Are there officially any specific units for this target group? Is this system put in to practice and how?

A.- There are very few resources available for those with mental health difficulties in Ireland and even fewer for those who are in conflict with the law. We have long waiting lists for both diagnosis and treatment and very few residential beds for children in need of inpatient treatment. Much of what is promised in this area has not yet been delivered (see A Vision for Change, 2006) despite the evidence that children in detention in particular have very high levels of disability and mental health problems compared with their peers in the community.

Q.- What is the importance and role given to the minor’s socioprofessional reinsertion? Do there exist any specific measures or programmes? If so, did these programmes have any influence on recidivism rates?

A.- Very few services are available for reintegration other than the Probation Service which is active in this area. Children in Detention Schools (traditionally for those under 16 years) are likely to have the services of an out-reach worker who will offer them a limited among of support on release, but those leaving the young offender institution (St Patrick’s) are unlikely to receive any substantial level of practical assistance.
Little specific is known about Ireland’s recidivism rates, particularly among young people but anecdotal evidence is that they are very high.

Q.- According to the Youth Justice Service, what is the interdisciplinary level of professionals who work with youth offenders?

A.- In terms of qualifications, there is little established in the way of requirements for those who work with young offenders other than what their professional bodies (lawyers, social workers, psychologist) require. Neither lawyers nor judges receive any level of specialist training in the area of youth justice.

Q.- In your opinion, What are the main principles in order to ensure the complete protection of children’s and adolescents’ rights?

A.- It is vital that children are treated with respect, that those they encounter in the youth justice system are professionally trained and appropriately specialised, that children have access to effective complaints and monitoring mechanisms in all areas of the system and that they have a right to information and advocacy services throughout. Children have a right to be heard and to participate throughout the process, and they have a right to age appropriate treatment. They should be kept away from the criminal justice system and from court to the maximum extent possible, and detention must not only be used as a measure of last resort but when it is used, it should be put to maximum effect to address those children’s significant problems.

Q.- What is the situation regarding juvenile violence in Ireland? Various incidents that have appeared in the press concerning juvenile violence have caused European Governments to plan or modify the national legislation using a more repressive approach. What about Ireland?

A.- Like other countries, we appear to have witnessed an increase in violent offences among young people although the way in which our data have been collected make this difficult to determine with certainty. To date, violent offenders are dealt with outside the youth justice system and this remains the case.

Q.- What is your biggest hope for the future of juvenile justice in Ireland?

A.- That the potential offered by the significant investment and reform currently envisaged is not wasted. Ireland has only a small number of young offenders mostly related to problems of alcohol/drugs, mental health issues and educational disadvantage and we have no excuse for not addressing these issues in a manner that is not only effective but that shows respect for the rights of young people.