Historic new child legislation passes
The Children Bill 1999 this week passed through the Oireachtas.
“This historic piece of legislation will substantially add to the protection we offer children” the Minister for Children Mary Hanafin said. “This bill involves a total overhaul of the Juvenile Justice system and gives a new legal basis for dealing with children who have behavioural difficulties and children who are offenders”.
The Bill, introduced by Mr. John O´Donoghue T.D., Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform replaces the 1908 Children Act and is based on the principle that detention of children should only be used as a last resort. It is the result of co-operation between three Government Departments – Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children and Education and Science. The Minister for Children Mary Hanafin will now oversee its implementation in conjunction with those Departments.
The key elements of the Bill involve:-
- Raising the age of criminal responsibility from 7 years – 12 years.
- The introduction of Family Conferences to enable children and their families agree on an action plan for the child.
- The use of Restorative Justice where a child offender can face and apologise to a victim.
- Placing the Garda Diversion Programme on a statutory footing.
- Listing alternative sanctions for young offenders e.g curfew, education, paying compensation etc.
- Stronger emphasis on individual and parental responsibility.
- Providing a legal basis for detaining children who have serious behavioural problems and who need special care.
- Greater co-ordination in the use of residential places.
Minister Hanafin said “This Bill marks an important milestone in the legal protection for children. It should be seen in the context of the Government family support projects, the increase investment in capital funding and the emphasis on early intervention and protection. I am committed to ensuring that as much as possible of this Bill will be introduced as quickly as possible” the Minister said.