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Children's rights in the justice system

21st January 2004

Dr Kilkelly considered the extent to which the Children Act 2001 meets the general standards as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, with specific reference to the child in the justice process.  Said Dr Kilkelly, "There is little doubt that the Children Act has the potential to transform the treatment of children in the criminal justice system. Whether that can be realised depends on resources, political will, and a real commitment to implementing its provisions and principles in line with international human rights standards."

The presentation provided a detailed analysed various parts of the Act, including the role of diversion programmes and the Children Court, comparing the content of the Act against current implementation and examining these structures within a broader human rights context.  Dr Kilkelly noted that, "While the Act establishes the Children Court as the body with responsibility for the trial of children, and makes some provision for this court to sit at a different time from other courts, no other consideration is given to what sort of a body the Children Court should be.  No consideration was given, it appears, to establishing a specialist post of Children Court judge - someone who would be specially trained and experienced in the area of juvenile justice - or indeed to having a mixed bench combing the district court judge with lay magistrates with special expertise in the area - people to whom the young person before the court may relate and who understands their background in social terms."

While acknowledging the potential of the Children Act to result in broad and progressive reform in Irish juvenile justice policy and practice, she concluded by raising questions about the political commitment to the full implementation and resourcing it. "Two years after it was adopted, significant parts of the Act are not yet in force, including the sections relating to community sanctions that have the most potential to ensure that children break the cycle of offending."

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