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Ebulletin #29

17th December 2005

VOICES RISING - Volume 3, Number 12


Penal Reform Trust welcomes Government decision on prisoner voting rights

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has today welcomed the announcement that the Government will bring forward legislation in the new year to enable prisoners to vote in forthcoming elections.

A report in today's Irish Independent revealed the Government's intention to allow people in prison to vote via postal ballot.  This report was confirmed this afternoon in the Dáil by Tánaiste, Mary Harney.

According to the Tánaiste, "Government has cleared the legislation to provide for prisoners' voting by way of postal ballot in their own constituencies....The Government cleared a Bill at the Cabinet meeting last week." 

In March 2004, in the case of Hirst v. The United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that denying prisoners the right to vote was in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  This decision was upheld by the Court in October this year following an attempt by the British Government to have it overturned.

In its decision, the European Court found, "The legitimacy of the law and the obligation to obey the law flow directly from the right of every citizen to vote." Permitting "elected representatives to disenfranchise a segment of the population finds no place in a democracy built upon principles of inclusiveness, equality, and citizen participation." 

"We very much welcome the Government's announcement today, and look forward to seeing the draft Bill when it is published next year," said IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines.  "The Penal Reform Trust has been campaigning on this issue since the original decision of the European Court in March 2004.  It is a campaign that received strong support from all opposition parties, including the recent introduction of a private member's bill by Fine Gael TD Gay Mitchell on this issue. We are pleased to see that the Government is now taking action to bring Ireland's electoral laws in line with European Human Rights Law."

Government announces major restructuring of Youth Justice System

The Minister for Children, Mr. Brian Lenihan T.D., has announced that the Government at its meeting today approved a number of major youth justice reforms following a review initiated by Minister Lenihan and carried out by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Among the measures agreed is the establishment of a new Youth Justice Service.  The new Service will be set up in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform but will operate within the new strategic environment of theOffice of the Minister for Children following the Government's recent decision on greater coherence in policies for children generally.

In announcing the measures, the Minister said "The Children Act 2001 is regarded as setting a framework for a modern and progressive youth justice system.  It reflects best international practice.  The new Youth Justice Service will provide the leadership necessary to implement the key remaining provisions of the Act in the lifetime of this Government".
The Government also approved amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 including:

  • provisions to effect the transfer of responsibilities for the detention of young offenders to the new Youth Justice Service;
  • provisions to ensure that the children detention school is the model for the detention of all children under 18;
  • replacement of the existing provisions in the Children Act 2001 on the age of criminal responsibility so as to prohibit the charging of children under 12 with most offences;
  • provisions to ensure that prosecutions of children under 14 years must be sanctioned by the DPP; and
  • new provisions to be added to the 2001 Act to allow for anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) for 12-18 year olds.
Youth Justice Reform - Details of measures approved
  • the publication of the Report on the Youth Justice Review, available on www.justice.ie;
  • the setting up of a new Youth Justice Service in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform;
  • the transfer of responsibility for the detention of young offenders under 18 from the Department of Education and Science, and from the Irish Prison Service, to the new Youth Justice Service;
  • proposed amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 to introduce necessary changes to the Children Act 2001, including changes to the age of criminal responsibility and provision for anti-social behaviour orders;
  • the establishment within the Health Service Executive of a national management structure for non-offending children in need of special care and support;
  • the development by the Department of Education and Science of a global strategy on educational services for offending children;  and
  • the development, as required, of local youth justice teams to enhance local service delivery around offending behaviour.

Press Releases from Children's Rights Alliance on Youth Justice Reforms

Alliance Welcomes Beefed Up Minister for Children - 8 December 

The Children's Rights Alliance today (8th December) welcomes the Taoiseach's announcement to increase the remit of the Minister for Children by bringing together responsibility for policy areas regarding children from the departments of Health, Justice and Education to a beefed up Office of
Minister for Children. 
Welcoming this announcement, Jillian van Turnhout, Chief Executive of the Children's Rights Alliance said,
"We are delighted by this announcement, the Alliance has been urging
Government for some time to increase coordination of services and policy affecting children.  The consolidation of responsibility in one Department has the potential to make a real difference to children, who have been failed by the fragmentation of responsibility and accountability."
"We are mid way through the government's ten year strategy for children, the National Children's Strategy (2000), we hope that this transfer of responsibility will address some of the weaknesses in implementing the Strategy, in particular in relation to providing vulnerable children with the supports they need".
"The announcement that the Minister for Children will attend regular Cabinet meetings gives children a voice and a champion at the table".
"We look forward to working closely with Minister Lenihan, his new Head of Office and staff over the coming months in the common pursuit of making Ireland the best place to be a child".
Government Breaks its Promise on Youth Crime - 12 December
The Children's Rights Alliance today (12th December) welcomes reports in the media that the Government is planning to introduce reforms to the youth justice system, including raising the age of criminal responsibility from seven to twelve years.  However, we are concerned that not all crimes will be covered by this reform.
Jillian van Turnhout, Chief Executive of the Children's Rights Alliance
"In 2001, the Government made a commitment in law that the age at which a child can be jailed will be raised from 7 to 12 years.  For the past 4 years nothing has happened.  We are delighted that now it looks like the Government will honour this commitment, however, they are not honouring it in full."
"We are dismayed that media reports indicate that the Government will break its promise to children by keeping the age at 10 years for certain crimes. The age was set at 12 for all crimes, following 30 years of debate, why the change and where is the debate on this issue?"
"Children, as young as 10, charged with murder and serious sexual offences will continue to be prosecuted.  The Alliance firmly believes that action must be taken in these serious cases and measures must be taken to protect society from any risk these children may pose.  However, we believe that the most effective action in these cases is through a social model, of child welfare, protection and care as opposed to a justice model of prosecution trial and detention." 
"How will bringing a child of ten to court and detaining him/her with older
teenagers with no treatment, therapy or re-education prevent the child from re-offending or harming himself or others in the future?  This is a flawed route.  What do these children need?  They need specially trained professionals to address their violent and/or sexualised behaviour, to assess if they pose any risk to society, to vindicate the rights of their victims and to engage them in rehabilitative and therapeutic programmes to prevent re-offending and encourage them to play a constructive role in society."
"The Alliance calls on the Government to seize this opportunity to live up
to its 2001 commitment to children and raise the age of criminal
responsibility to 12 years for ALL children."

New documents on youth justice available on iprt.ie

IPRT Holiday Closing

The IPRT offices will be closed over the holidays from Monday December 20th until Monday January 9th.

While we will not be accessible by telephone during that time, we will be responding to email as needed at info@iprt.ie.

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