Irish Penal Reform Trust

Prison Law Seminar Series: Sentencing and Procedure in Youth Justice Cases

30th June 2009

The third in our Prison Law seminar series took place in Dublin on June 30th on the topic “Sentencing and Procedures in Youth Justice Cases”. IPRT co-hosts this series with the Irish Criminal Bar Association and the Dublin Solicitor’s Bar Association. As with our previous seminars, the event was a great success with over 115 practitioners in attendance.

Focus of the Seminar

The Children Act 2001, as amended, sets out the legal framework for the treatment of children under 18 years who have been charged with a criminal offence. It is a detailed and comprehensive piece of legislation which applies not only in the Children Court, but also to an extent in the Circuit and Central Criminal Courts. Following its amendment by the Criminal Justice Act 2006, the 2001 Act has now been fully commenced with new sections dealing with the age of criminal responsibility, pre-conviction family conferencing, community sanctions and sentencing guidelines. The European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 means that ECHR law can also be applied in this context.

The purpose of this seminar was to increase awareness about the legislation in this area, especially on matters of procedure and sentencing, and to identify any problems with the operation of this legislation in practice. There was particular emphasis on practice in the Children Court, but the scope and implications of the Act in the Circuit and Central Criminal Courts were also explored. The role of High Court proceedings, notably in cases in which children also face criminal charges, was also examined.


• Dr. Ursula Kilkelly, Senior Lecturer in Law, University College Cork
• Gráinne O’Neill BL
• Catherine Ghent Solicitor

The two main speakers at the event were Gráinne O’Neill BL and Catherine Ghent Solicitor. Dr. Ursula Kilkelly, IPRT chairperson, was also scheduled to speak but had to withdraw due to illness. However, Ursula submitted a written paper which provided an overview of the Children Act 2001 and highlighted some the issues arising in the implementation of the Act in recent years (see below).

Catherine and Gráinne addressed some of the key practical issues facing solicitors and barristers representing young people in both the criminal and social care contexts before the courts. While it was acknowledged by all speakers that the introduction of the Children Act has marked a significant advance in the legislative scheme of dealing with young people in conflict with the law, Gráinne and Catherine gave a fascinating if somewhat depressing picture of the failure of the legal system to adequately vindicate the rights of the most vulnerable children coming before them.

IPRT intends to use the learning from this seminar to inform its work in the area of youth justice, a priority for IPRT over the next two years.

Papers from the Third Prison Law Seminar:

Children Act and the ECHR: Matters of Procedure and Substance by_Dr Ursula Kilkelly_30 June 2009

This seminar series is hosted jointly by Irish Penal Reform Trust, the Irish Criminal Bar Association and the Dublin Solicitors Bar Association, and seminars qualify for Continuing Professional Development for both solicitors and barristers.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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