Many recent reports attest to the fact that senior gang members are circumventing and undermining the progress made in Juvenile Justice with the increase in the Criminal Age of Responsibility to 12 under the Childrens Act 2001. More and more children are being sucked into this lifestyle, with Irish gang leaders happy in the knowledge that children may not be prosecuted for carrying out gang style activities. It is an issue I have often brought to the Ministers attention and I would like to see a specific offence in the canon of recently published gangland legislation dealing specifically with the adult direction of children in gang activity.
To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the legislation he plans to deal with the developing situation whereby children under the criminal age of twelve are becoming more associated with gangland culture; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
REPLY.On 16 October 2006 the age of criminal responsibility was effectively raised from 7 to 12 years. This came into force under Part 5 of the Children Act 2001, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2006. Under the new provisions, no child under the age of 12 years can be charged with an offence. An exception is made for 10 and 11 year-olds charged with very serious offences, such as unlawful killing, a rape offence or aggravated sexual assault. In addition, the Director of Public Prosecutions must give consent for any child under the age of 14 years to be charged.
Section 53 of the Children Act sets out a series of clear steps which a member of An Garda Síochána should undertake when faced with a child under the age of criminal responsibility who commits an offence –
The Garda should take the child to its parent or guardian.
Where the Garda has reasonable grounds for believing that the child is not receiving adequate care or protection, the Garda shall inform the HSE of the child’s name, address and age and the circumstances in which the child came to the attention of An Garda Síochána.
Where it is not practicable for the child to be taken to his or her parent or guardian, the Garda concerned may give the child, or arrange for the child to be given, into the custody of the HSE.
Where the Garda has reasonable grounds for believing (a) that there is an immediate and serious risk to the health and welfare of the child, and (b) that it would not be sufficient to await an emergency care order, the Garda may remove the child to safety.
Section 53(4) of the Children Act states that it is the duty of the HSE to apply for a care order or supervision order (in accordance with the Child Care Act 1991) where it appears to the HSE that the child is unlikely to receive the care and protection it requires under the circumstances described above.
There are no plans for legislation to change the age of criminal responsibility.