Ms. Emily Logan. Ombudsman for Children. Ireland

Ms. Emily Logan. Ombudsman for Children. Ireland

Sra. Emily Logan, Defensora del pueblo Infancia y Adolescencia. Irlanda

Emily Logan is Ireland’s first Ombudsman for Children. She was appointed to this position by our Head of State, Her Excellency, President Mary McAleese, following an open competition and interview process involving fifteen children and three adults.  On December 18th 2009 she was re-appointed for a second term of six years. As Ombudsman for Children, Emily is directly accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas. Having originally trained as a paediatric nurse in Dublin’s Temple Street University Hospital, Emily spent ten years in the UK working at Great Ormond Street hospital. She returned to Ireland where for six years preceding her appointment she held two senior positions in public administration; Director of Nursing at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, and later Director of Nursing at Tallaght Hospital.

Question.- Can you please provide us a short description of your Institution activities and objectives? In particular in the case of children in conflict with the law?

The Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) is an independent human rights institution established in 2004 under primary legislation to promote and monitor the rights of children in Ireland. I was appointed by the President of Ireland on the nomination of the Oireachtas (Parliament) and am accountable directly to the Oireachtas. This Office has dealt with over 7,500 complaints regarding the administrative actions of civil and public administration and has frequently submitted advice to Government on major legislation relating to the rights and welfare of children. As Ombudsman for Children, I am statutorily mandated to promote the principles and provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the work of my Office aims to ensure that Ireland complies in full with its international human rights obligations.

The issue of children in conflict with the law has been central to the work of the Office since its establishment. The continued use of an adult prison, St. Patrick’s Institution, for the detention of boys under the age of 18 has been a particular concern. In addition to raising these concerns with international human rights monitoring mechanisms over many years, my Office carried out a significant project working directly with the 16 and 17 year old boys in detained in St. Patrick’s Institution; the aim of the project was to highlight the experience young people have in detention and to raise the problems identified with decision-makers in a position to remedy those problems.

I have also submitted advice to the Irish Government and Parliament outlining my concerns regarding the statutory framework governing youth justice in Ireland. Those concerns relate primarily to the age of criminal responsibility, the operation of certain aspects of the Garda (Police) Diversion Programme and the potential use of anti-social behaviour orders.

 Q.- Which are juvenile crime trends in Ireland? Can you precise the main causes of juvenile crime and if there is a link with communities tensions? (Please precise your answer with available statistics). Have juvenile crime prevention policies been implemented in the recent years with which results?    

The Garda (Police) Diversion Programme provides that if a child gets into trouble with the law, the police may decide to caution and keep him/her under supervision rather than go to court.

The number of children referred to the Garda Diversion Programme in Ireland declined by 41.6% from 2007-2011, although the total number of incidents referred has remained quite stable. Although the precise reasons for this decline have yet to be explored in full, a significant component of this is likely to be an increase in children at risk being dealt with through our child welfare and protection services rather than by the police.

Out of a population of over 1.1 million children, 12,809 were referred to our Garda Diversion Programme in 2011. When this figure is further broken down, a number of important elements emerge:

  • 75.4% of children referred were between 15 and 17 years of age
  • The number and rate of children referred was approximately three times higher for boys
  • he majority of children referred were dealt with by way of a formal or informal caution (23% and 57.4% respectively)
  • ublic order and other social code offences were the single highest cause for referral to the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme, representing 28.9% of referrals. This was followed by theft (23.7%) and damage to property (11.3%)

As regards children in conflict with the law that go before the courts, there were a total of 3,731 defendants under the age of 18 in 2011, of whom 263 were sentenced to detention. A further 158 were sentenced to detention but had their sentences suspended in whole or in part; in addition, a further 108 were returned to a higher court for trial. Orders relating to probation for young people were made in respect of 727 young people.

The principal offences for which children and young people were detained in 2011 were theft, assault and criminal damage.
 Q.- The IJJO is providing an international campaign on legal aid for children in conflict with law. What are your perspectives and opinion about the situation juvenile justice and legal assistance for children in conflict with law in Ireland?

I am not aware that access to criminal legal aid in Ireland is a significant problem for children and young people.

Q.- Under which law or rule the juvenile justice system of your country is runned? What are the possible sanctions or measures for young offenders and the ratio of their implementation?

Youth justice in Ireland is largely governed by the Children Act 2001, as amended. The 2001 Act enshrines the principle of detention as a last resort in law and provides for a range of community-based sanctions, as well as for the Garda Diversion Programme, which I have already mentioned above.

When a child is found guilty of an offence, a court may impose one or more of the sanctions provided for in Part 9 of the Children Act; these include measures such as fines, orders relating to parents, day centre orders or mentoring orders.  

 Q.- What is the situation of children in institutions and in particular children in conflict with the law in your country?
As noted above, a major concern for my Office has been the detention of children under the age of 18 in St. Patrick’s Institution, which is a closed, medium-security prison. The conditions in the prison have been consistently criticised by both international and domestic monitoring mechanisms as being wholly unsuitable for young people. In addition, St. Patrick’s Institution was until recently outside the investigatory remit of my Office, so young people detained there had no access to an independent complaints-handling mechanism.

My Office undertook a significant project with young people detained in St. Patrick’s Institution in 2009/2010 aimed at highlighting issues of concern to those young people and making recommendations for change. In addition to publishing a report on the consultation, my Office also produced a DVD using some of the comments made by the young people and art they had produced.

I was very pleased with the outcome of the project, as the Government has committed to ending the detention of young people under the age of 18 in St. Patrick’s Institution by 2014 and has already begun a phased transfer of 16 year old boys from St. Patrick’s Institution to the children detention schools, which are more appropriate for the needs of the young people in question.

Q.- What have been the main issues related to Juvenile Justice in your country in the last 10 years and how your office has contributed to solve or denounce the different problems.

From my perspective, the main issues have been the inappropriate use of an adult prison to detain 16 and 17 year old boys – an inappropriate custodial rather than a care environment - and the deficiencies in the legislation underpinning the youth justice system that I mentioned above.

I think that my Office’s contribution has been central to raising awareness of the difficulties facing young people in detention with the relevant decision-makers, specifically by bringing the voices of young people in detention to the fore. It is not easy sometimes to undertake this sort of exercise, as some people may be inclined to believe that young people in detention will intentionally exaggerate the problems they face. Dealing with this attitude – which prevailed at even the highest levels of the civil service in Ireland – was a challenge, but I am pleased to say that lingering doubts in this respect have been dispelled.

I believe that Ireland is moving in the right direction when it comes to youth justice, though much work remains to be done.

Q.-With regards to Europe, what kind of collaboration is there between Ireland and the others European member states? Does it have bilateral agreements of which sort

I am not aware that any such agreements are currently in place between Ireland and other jurisdictions with respect to the detention of young people.