Children Court

Dublin Metropolitan Children Court

1. This practice direction will apply to cases of children and young persons (that is to say, those under 18) in the Dublin Metropolitan Children Courts as and from 30/01/2014.

2. Children and young persons are referred to in this practice direction as 'young defendants'. The singular includes the plural and the masculine the feminine.

3. Young defendants have rights and freedom before the law equal to those enjoyed by adults and, in particular, a right to be heard and to participate in any proceedings of the court that can affect them. The purpose of a trial in a Children Court is to determine guilt (if that is in issue) and decide the appropriate sentence if the young defendant pleads guilty or is convicted of the offence or crime for which they are before the court. Criminal proceedings shall not be used solely to provide any assistance or service needed to care for or protect a child.

4. The interests of the public must also be properly represented in the hearing of proceedings in the Dublin Metropolitan Children Court and the court will also safeguard the rights and interests of victims and witnesses involved in such proceedings.

Goal of practice direction

5. The goal of the practice direction is to outline the steps which will be employed in the Dublin Metropolitan Children Court in all proceedings under the Children Act, 2001 as amended, to ensure compliance with a young defendants’ Constitutional rights as well as international standards for juvenile justice set out in the European Charter, the European Convention on Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights on the Child, and the United Nations "Beijing Rules" on the administration of juvenile justice.

6. Young defendants accused of committing serious crimes may be vulnerable due to their age, level of maturity or disability when standing trial in the children court. The trial process should not itself expose the young defendant to avoidable intimidation, humiliation or distress. The ordinary trial process in the children courts is therefore adapted to meet those ends and ensure due regard to the welfare of the young defendant as appropriate.

7. The court will give effect to the goals of the practice direction when it interprets the provision of same. However the practice direction does not limit or interfere in any way with the powers and discretions of the judge under the Children Acts 2001-2011 and District Court Rules either generally or in a particular case.

Administration of justice in public [section 94 Children Act, 2001]

8. In a proceeding before the court in relating to a young defendant the court shall exclude from the courtroom a person who is not:

(a) an officer of the court,

(b) the parents or guardian of the child concerned,

(c) an adult relative of the child, or other adult who attends the court pursuant to section 91(6) of the ChildrenAct, 2001,

(d) persons directly concerned in the proceedings, or

(e) bona fide representatives of the Press.

9. The court may permit to be present any other person who in its discretion has a proper interest in the proceeding or any person whose presence would not be prejudicial to the interests of the young defendant.

10. The court may limit attendance of the categories of persons set out at 8(a) (c) (d) and (e) above to those with an immediate and direct interest in the outcome of the trial so as to ensure fair trial procedures of the young defendant are respected. Fair trial procedures include the vulnerability of the young defendant and the space available in the courtroom having regard to the numbers involved.

11. Where it is determined that access to the court room by reporters must be restricted in a proportionate manner so as to ensure fair trial procedures of the young defendant arrangements shall be made prior to court so that the public’s general right to be informed about the administration of justice in the Children Court is safeguarded.

12. The court shall rule on any challenged claim to attend having heard all the parties. In ruling on any challenged claim to attend the courtroom for the purpose of reporting the trial the court shall have regard to the public's general right to be informed about the administration of justice in the Children Court.

13. Where a proceeding or young defendant has attracted or may attract widespread public or media interest application should be made in advance to the Court so that arrangements can be put in place to protect the identity of the young defendant/victim to ensure fair trial procedures.

14. The Order or decision of the court (if any) in young defendant’s proceedings shall be announced in public session of the Court in a manner which protects legal identification and legal reporting restrictions as contained in Children Act, 2001 as amended.

Children court environment

15. A young defendant should normally, if he wishes, be free to sit close to members of his family or others in a like relationship.

16. Before the commencement of each hearing the Legal Representative(s) for the prosecution and defence shall identify themselves to the court and shall also identify and introduce to the court the party they represent, relevant family members and all relevant witnesses present in the court in connection with the case.

17. Once a case has been called, by initials only, no person unconnected with the proceedings may enter the courtroom once the case has been commenced unless called as a witness.

18. There should be no recognisable uniformed presence in the courtroom save for good reason but which good reason includes the security of the court by a member of An Garda Síochána responsible for the security of the Court.

19. Arrangements may be made for a young defendant (if so requested) to visit, out of court hours and before the trial, the courtroom in which the trial is to be held so that he/she can familiarise themselves with the court environment.

Courts expectation of legal practitioners

20. Tabs, robes and wigs should not be worn in court.

21. Where a young defendant has a particular vulnerability requiring special arrangements, or requires translation of advocacy facilities in order to meaningfully participate in the proceedings it is the duty of the legal practitioner to bring this to the attention of the court as soon as practicable.

22. Legal representatives for both prosecution and defence should, where appropriate, discuss bail conditions prior to court and ensure that bail conditions proposed to the Court can be complied with by the young defendant.

23.  Legal representatives should also take all steps necessary to ensure that young defendants are fully aware of what is in involved in complying with bail conditions and understand the consequences which flow from breach of bail conditions. All relevant services that may assist a young defendant in compliance with such bail conditions should be outlined to the court.

Rosemary Horgan
President of District Court

District Court