Announcing the 4th Annual CCJHR Lecture

The Centre of Criminal Justice and Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University College Cork requests the pleasure of your company at The 4th Annual Criminal Justice and Human Rights Lecture.

The 4th Annual Criminal Justice and Human Rights Lecture is to be delivered by The Honourable Mr. Justice William McKechnie, Judge of the High Court on “Respectable Criminality”and will take place on Thursday March 4th 2010 in the Aula Maxima, UCC at 6.30pm (Registration for this event will take place from 17:45)

The lecture will be chaired by Dr.David Riordan, Judge of the District Court With a wine reception to follow.

A 1.5 Hours CPD Certificate of Attendance will be issued for this event.There is No admission charge for this event.

RSVP via email: by 10th February, 2010.

Further information:
Noreen Delea,
Department of Law
Telephone: 021-4903220

More on Stop and Search powers

The decision of the ECtHR in Gillan and Quinton has given rise to some interesting comment. See a good contribution by Vicky Conway Stop and Search and the Human Rights Boundaries” on the Human Rights In Ireland blog.

And in today’s Guardian, Sir Ian Blair, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has argued in favour of the powers ruled illegal by the Court in an article entitled “In defence of stop and search“. The main thrust of his argument is that the ends justify the means, and if it was not for such powers the police would victimise suspect communities:

Were the power to be abolished or unduly curtailed in its application … two
consequences are likely. The first is that it would be almost inevitable that police officers would, as a pragmatic solution, begin to target these kind of searches much more closely on the particular community from which the current threat is seen mainly but not exclusively to come, young Muslims, with all the increase in alienation that would engender. Inconvenience shared must be preferable. Second, and avoidably, Britain would simply be less safe.

This seems to miss the clear points made by the court that firstly, those commuties were actually being targetted under the powers in the Terrorism Act 2000 and presumably the police felt justified and empowered to do that, and secondly, that no one had been charged with any terrorism related offences following a stop and search.

No country should allow their police to justify random and extensive stop and searches under the justification of making terrorists understand (as in airports) “that they are at risk, however covert their behaviour, of being searched and having their details logged at random.”

The decision of the ECtHR seems to be lost of Sir Ian Blair. It will be interesting to see if the British Government understand a little better the importance of Article 8 rights in relation to stop and search powers.

Gillan & Quinton v. UK – ECtHR rules UK police stop and search powers violate Art 8

The European Court of Human Rights yesterday decided that the UK’s anti-terrorism legislation allowing police to stop and search individuals without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing breached Article 8 of the ECHR.

Sections 44-47 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provide senior police officer’s with the power to issue an authorization, if s/he thinks it “expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism” which allows uniformed police officers within a defined geographical area to stop anyone and search them. These provisions go beyond the normal stop and search powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which require that the police officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual possesses a “prohibited article” or is about to or has committed a crime. The authorizations under the 2000 Act are designed to be temporary lasting only 28 days and only within a limited area. However, the reality of the use of these provisions has seen the entire area of Greater London designated as suitable for searches and the authorization continuously renewed to the extent that the powers operated over a number of years. Thus the extraordinary power was normalized, something that was to have an impact upon the decision of the court.

The case of Gillan & Quinton v. UK was brought following stops and searches of the applicants at a demonstration against an arms fair in London in 2003. Gillan was a protester and Quinton a photo journalist. They challenged their treatment at the hands of the police through a judicial review which was dismissed in the domestic courts (R. v. Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and another). The House of Lords decision had been criticized for taking a weak approach to judicial review, or even showing excess deference to the executive, in the area of anti-terrorism powers. The court was doubtful that an ordinary search carried out by the police would amount to a lack of respect for a person’s private life. And that even if Article 8 of the convention was relevant the procedure under the 2000 Act was “in accordance with the law” and that it would be “impossible to regard a proper exercise of the power as other than proportionate when seeking to counter the great danger of terrorism.”

A case was then brought to the European Court of Human Rights claiming violations of Articles 5 (right to liberty), 8 (right to respect for private and family life), 10 (freedom of expression) and 11 (right to free association).

The ECtHR found a violation of Article 8 and so did not go on to consider the other violations raised by the case. It did, however, indicate that it felt that there was a breach of Article 5. In particular it noted that although neither applicant had been held for longer than 30 minutes they were during that period “entirely deprived of any freedom of movement. They were obliged to remain where they were and submit to the search and if they had refused they would have been liable to arrest, detention at a police station and criminal charges.” The court noted that the elements of coercion were “indicative of a deprivation of liberty” within Article 5. This is in contrast to the House of Lords decision in which Lord Bingham concluded that the brief nature of stop and search and the lack of handcuffs/confinement meant there was no “deprivation of liberty”.

In relation to Article 8 the court found that stop and search powers were a clear interference with the privacy of the person.

The public nature of the search, with the discomfort of having personal information exposed to public view, might even in certain cases compound the seriousness of the interference because of an element of humiliation and embarrassment.

The court went on to conclude that the interference was not “in accordance with law” finding that the “wide discretion” provided by the legislation had not been limited by adequate legal safeguards to prevent abuse of the process. The court noted the statistical and other evidence that had been presented to it showing the extent of the police powers under the law.

The Ministry of Justice recorded a total of 33,177 searches in 2004/5, 44,545 in 2005/6, 37,000 in 2006/7 and 117,278 in 2007/8. In his Report into the operation of the Act in 2007, Lord Carlile noted that while arrests for other crimes had followed searches under s.44, none of the many thousands of searches had ever related to a terrorism offence; in his 2008 Report Lord Carlile noted that examples of poor and unnecessary use of s.44 abounded….

The court concluded that there were clear risks of discriminatory use of stop and search powers with the data showing a “disproportionate” impact on black and Asian persons. In relation to the case at hand the court also noted that risk that “widely framed” powers could be “misused against demonstrators and protesters in breach of Article 10 and/or 11 of the Convention”.
The decision of the court therefore recognizes the reality of the use of stop and search powers, both in relation to ethnic minorities and demonstrators. The evidence from the Carlile reports powerfully demonstrates the long argued position that allowing the police to stop and search on the basis of a hunch, and without “reasonable suspicion” will have a tendency to result in arbitrary and discriminatory use of those powers.
The judgment of the court therefore criticizes the whole process by which the stop and search powers under the 2000 Act were authorized by both police and the Home Secretary. The lack of control and the ability of the police to stop people based on instinct clearly raised serious concern about the arbitrary nature of the powers. Whilst the immediate response from the UK government was that their lawyers were reviewing the judgment it is interesting to note that the Metropolitan Police took a decision in 2009 to curtail the use of s44 powers.

The seriousness of the situation relating to the police use of stop and search in the UK was emphasized on the day of the courts judgment when the Guardian reported that Kent Police had admitted conducting illegal searches on 11 year old twins at an environmental demonstration. The admission came as part of a court case brought by protests against the policing of the demonstration at the Kingsnorth power station in 2008. The search had been part of a “checkpoint” system set up by the police which saw over 3500 protesters systematically stopped and searched.

Call for Papers – CCJHR Postgraduate Conference 29th Apil 2010

The Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights at University College Cork is pleased to announce its IV Annual Postgraduate Conference which will take place on Thursday, 29th April, 2010. The conference is aimed at those who are undertaking postgraduate research in the areas of criminal law, criminal justice and human rights.

The theme for this year’s event is “Borders of Justice: Locating the Law in Times of Transition.” The aim is to reflect upon how reactionary law making and the related rhetoric of crisis impact negatively on fundamental rights protection and the criminal law. We hope that this theme will encourage debate on the challenging and complex questions which arise when defining the remit of the law in changing and turbulent times.

This international one-day event will attract promising research scholars from Ireland, the UK and Europe in the areas of law, politics, philosophy and the related social sciences. We are especially interested in papers that relate to human rights, criminal justice, criminal law or the intersection of these fields. However, we also welcome papers dealing with issues outside these areas that fall within the broader theme of the conference. Papers will be streamed thematically, with previous years including such sessions as “Contemporary Discourse in Criminal Law”, “Civil Liberties, Technology and State Security Claims” and “International Law, Human Rights and Development Policy”.

The best paper of the conference will receive a prize of €200 which is sponsored by Griffith College, Cork.

Please submit an abstract (max. 300 words) to the organising committee by Friday, 12th February 2010. Successful conference submissions will be notified by Friday, 26th February 2010. Submissions and further enquires should be directed to

Reforming criminal defences – the LRC recommendations on Defensive Force

This blog post was contributed by Dr Catherine O’Sullivan, member of the CCJHR.
The Report on Defences in Criminal Law launched by the Law Reform Commission (LRC) in December 2009 has received quite a bit of attention due to recommendations made in relation to the use of defensive force to protect the home. In particular, the LRC’s recommendation that there be no upper limit on the amount of force that can be legally used to defend the home has been criticised for being the equivalent of a “have a go charter” by the Irish Council on Civil Liberties (ICCL).
However, while the ICCL is correct to be concerned about the scope of the LRC’s recommendations, it is perhaps not fair to dismiss the proposals in their entirety. Many of the recommendations regarding the use of lethal force in a home invasion context are sensible and a careful read of the relevant sections in chapter 2 of the Report shows that the LRC situated them within their recommendations for the defence of legitimate defence as a whole. Therefore while lethal force may be legally permitted to defend the home under section 3 of their proposed Criminal Law (Defences) Bill 2009 – proposals that the Minister for Justice has promised to table before the Oireachtas in 2010 in his speech at the launch of the Report – the use of that force must meet to varying degrees the threshold, imminence, necessity and proportionality requirements that the LRC also recommended as integral to the definition of legitimate defence as a whole.
In order to understand the ambit of the LRC’s recommendations regarding lethal defensive force in the home, it is first necessary to examine the LRC’s recommendations regarding lethal defensive force generally. The primary reason that the LRC recommended that these four requirements be part of the general defence of legitimate defence was that under the law on defensive force as currently enshrined in Ireland either in legislative form (for non-fatal offences) or in common law (for cases in which lethal force is used), a vague standard of reasonableness is set. Under this reasonableness test, the degree of the threat faced/threshold, imminence, necessity and proportionality are merely factors which are taken into consideration in order to determine if the accused’s response was reasonable. This, the LRC, felt offended against the legality principle – the idea that citizens need clear guidance as to what they are legally permitted to do and, more importantly, not to do in given situations (paras 2.24-2.26). As such they recommended that lethal force should only be permitted where the threat faced reached a certain threshold (the accused must have faced death, serious injury, rape, aggravated sexual assault or false imprisonment by force), where the threat was imminent (a concept looser than that of immediacy which accordingly allows for the use of pre-emptive force), where the circumstances necessitated the use of force (i.e. safe retreat was not possible and that, if the situation was self-induced, that the response of the original victim was disproportionate) and that the use of force was not grossly disproportionate in light of the threat faced. These requirements are not alternatives. The LRC recommends that all four should be present before someone could lay claim to the defence of legitimate defence in a case involving lethal force.
Under this new definition of the defence the concept of reasonableness is not entirely abolished. In section 2(7) of the proposed Bill 2009, the LRC suggests that regard should be had by the trier of fact to the reasonableness of the accused’s beliefs in his/her determination that the threat was imminent, that the use of force was necessary and that the amount of force s/he used was proportionate. As such, the accused’s honest and reasonable perception of the extent of the threat s/he faced where s/he used lethal force is irrelevant – an entirely objective test applies to the threshold requirement. The implementation of an objective test for this criterion was justified by the LRC with reference to the legality principle (paras 2.44-2.46). Its exclusion from one of four requirements however is arguably inconsistent – the same factors that a jury will consider to determine whether the minimum threshold requirement was met will also arise in their consideration of whether the use of force was proportionate – and may make the application of the four requirements more difficult for jurors to apply.
The threshold, imminence, necessity and proportionality requirements are also relevant to the use of lethal defensive force within the home, although with some modifications. For example is it argued by the LRC that there should not be a safe retreat obligation imposed in a home invasion context given the special status of the home constitutionally (Articles 40.3 and 40.5), physically and emotionally. This recommendation to give legislative status to the Castle Doctrine is in effect the implementation of the Court of Criminal Appeal’s decision in People (DPP) v. Barnes. However there is no explanation offered for the jump from the LRC’s threshold recommendation in para. 2.84 that lethal defensive force may be used to protect “a person’s own safety, the safety of another or the safety of the person’s property” in the context of home invasion to the text proposed in section 3 of the 2009 Bill:

(2) Notwithstanding section 2(2), a person is justified in using lethal force in his or her dwelling, or in the vicinity of the dwelling, by way of defence to the threat of, or use of, unlawful force by another person, but only in order to repel the threat of
(a) death or serious injury,
(b) rape or aggravated sexual assault,
(c) false imprisonment by force,
(d) entry to or occupation of the dwelling (including forcible entry or occupation) that is not authorised by or in accordance with law, or
(e) damage to or destruction of the dwelling.

The offending sub-section is 3(2)(d). Not only is this text broader than the LRC’s recommendation in para. 2.84 but it is also possibly unconstitutional in its range. The extension of the right to use lethal force in a case where the burglar simply enters the property is at odds with the LRC’s statement in para. 2.83 that “[b]y putting these safeguards in place … the constitutional rights to life of both the householder and the burglar or intruder are given protection to an appropriate level, as identified … in the Barnes case … .” However Hamilton J in Barnes was very clear that killing a burglar simply because he was a burglar would be contrary to Article 40.3.1 (the burglar’s right to life). He held: “… a person cannot lawfully lose his life simply because he trespasses in the dwellinghouse of another with intent to steal. In as much as the State itself will not exact the forfeiture of his life for doing so, it is ridiculous to suggest that a private citizen, however outraged, may deliberately kill him simply for being a burgl
ar.” Section 3(2)(d) clearly offends against this constitutional consideration. It is thought that it was this aspect of the Bill 2009 that the ICCL was referring to when it noted that the Bill would be “unlikely to pass constitutional muster.”

20th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

This blog was contributed by Aekje Teeuwen, Legal Consultant based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
A juvenile defendant, aged 17 was arrested, charged with robbery and placed in pre-trial detention for two months and 26 days. The court of first instance sentenced the defendant for five years in prison. The defendant appealed this decision and waited in custody for two years and ten months for his appeal trial. Although, the lawyer was present during appeal trial, the defendant was tried in absentia. The appeal court reduced the sentence to three years and six months.

As of today, a total number of 851 minors, between 14 and 18 years of age, of whom 826 are male and 25 female, are detained in Cambodian prisons. In many cases these children are denied their basic legal rights, resulting in excessive periods held in pre-trial detention, as well as prolonged detention during the appeal process. Further, a lack of legal representation and being tried in absentia compounds the denial of their basic rights.

In Cambodia there are no children’s courts nor Judges and Prosecutors specialized in the area of juvenile justice and the application of the rights of the child. As a result, children are often subjected to the same judicial procedures and processes as adults. The extreme vulnerability of these children is further exacerbated as a result of them not being housed in separate sections of the prison to the adults, as well as inadequate food, healthcare and access to educational & rehabilitation programs.

During 2007, a Cambodian non-governmental organization called The Center for Social Development (CSD) monitored 22 appeal trials in which 26 juveniles were involved. 61.5 % of the juvenile defendants were held in custody pending appeal trial. Of these 61.5 %,
12.5 % of juvenile defendants waited in custody less than one year (8 months). 56.25 % of the defendants waited for more than one year and 31.25 % of the juvenile defendants had to wait more than two years. In the beginning of 2008, a case was monitored in which a juvenile defendant waited for four years and three months before an appeal trial date was set.

It is outlined in the Cambodian Criminal Procedure Code Article 387 that the Court of Appeal must decide the appeal trial date within a reasonable period of time. Despite this excessive periods of time pass before appeals are heard. These excessive ‘waiting-periods’ for appeal trial are a great cause for concern, in particular in cases where the defendant is in custody and/or which involve children and considers waiting for years for an appeal trial ‘beyond a reasonable time’. Also it does not comply with article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that “the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”. This issue has been specifically highlighted in this article because up to this date there is very little attention given to this particular matter in Cambodia.

In addition, it was noted that amongst the 26 juvenile defendants 23 % did not have access to defense counsel during their appeal trial. As well, 65 % were tried in their absence. It is clearly outlined in national and international laws that every citizen has the right to be tried in his presence and enjoys the right to judicial counsel. The UNCRC recognizes the importance of a child’s access to legal representation in Article 37 (d): “Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance”.
We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is a great opportunity to promote and highlight the rights concerning children in conflict with the law throughout the whole criminal process, from the commencement of the judicial proceedings until final judgment is rendered. Therefore, it is urged to the Government of Cambodia, in accordance with the UNCRC to which Cambodia has made a solemn commitment in 1992 to uphold, to act in the best interests of Cambodian children, and to specifically require Judges and Court officials to fast-track juvenile appeals and to give them the highest priority and to ensure the shortest possible period of time prior to adjudication.
Finally, this is an issue not only for Cambodia, but for all judicial systems throughout the world to comply with their national and international laws and conventions regarding the rights of the child, and to always take into account and respect the particularly special position children hold in our societies.

JILIR – Call for submissions

The Journal of International Law and International Relations has issued a call for submissions from scholars of International Law and International Relations. The deadline for submissions is January 23, 2010.

The journal is a joint venture of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and the Munk Centre for International Studies, the JILIR is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal that publishes articles on the wide variety of topics located in the intellectual space jointly occupied by International Law and International Relations.

Submissions should be sent via e-mail to as attachments in Microsoft Word or Rich Text format, preferably with footnoted citations. The author’s full contact information (name, institutional affiliation, mailing address, telephone number(s), and e-mail address) should be included in the body of the e-mail.

Murphy Report: Can a failure to protect be prosecuted?

The following is a discussion of whether it is possible to prosecute those who failed to intervene in cases of child abuse in the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin. The material was first published in the November Edition of Firstlaw‘s Criminal Law Online Service.

The Report of the Murphy Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin has understandably given rise to a huge level of public concern. The Report covers the period between 1975 and 2004 and essentially deals with two separate issues:

  1. An examination of the handling of sexual abuse complaints in the Archdiocese itself;
  2. Detailing the individual claims of abuse as against 46 individual Priests.

The nature of the individual incidents of abuse outlined in the Report is deeply shocking. Many of the incidents have themselves given rise to criminal prosecutions and convictions in respect of particular complainants. However, the publication of the Report quickly gave rise to calls, particularly from victims groups, for a criminal investigation in respect of those parts of the Report which appeared to outline an unwillingness on the part of the Church authorities and/or State institutions to investigate complaints and prosecute them. This part of the Report gives rise to some very interesting questions in relation to the applicability of the Criminal Law in terms of the relationship between the Church and individual priests against whom complaints were made, and also the relationship between the Church and outside organisations and in particular An Garda Síochána.

The hunger for prosecutions in respect of what has been described as a “cover up” is entirely understandable and in that regard the flames have been fanned to an extent by the immediate reaction of the Minister for Justice who was reported as saying

“No Government can guarantee that in the future there won’t be evil people who will do evil things, but the era where evil people could do so under the cover of the cloth, facilitated and shielded from the consequences by their authorities, while the lives of children were ruined by such cruelty is over for good. The bottom line is this: – a collar will protect no criminal.”

In so far as these remarks refer to individual perpetrators of abuse the remarks are uncontroversial; undoubtedly prosecutions for abusive activity have been brought and, having regard to the way in which ‘delay jurisprudence’ has developed in this jurisdiction, prosecutions may still be brought in the future notwithstanding the antiquity of any given allegation.
However, the remarks of the Minister, and those of victims’ group One in Four fed into a wider public desire to see senior church figures punished for failures in the management of complaints and the management of priests against whom complaints had been made. What many members of the public now seem to want to know is whether representatives of the Church itself, who abused no one, but who may have known of abuse can be prosecuted for their failures identified in the Report. It must be said that while putting the avoidance of scandal above the welfare of children was a shocking policy choice it is difficult to see in practical terms how criminal prosecutions would be sustainable in relation to that.

There has been much comment on the kinds of laws that may or may not have been breached and which could give rise to prosecution. Reckless endangerment of children has been mentioned in this context. However, this offence was created by the Criminal Justice Act 2006 and involves a situation where a person having authority or control over a child or abuser intentionally or recklessly endangers a child by causing or permitting that child to be placed or left in a situation which creates a substantial risk to the child of being a victim of serious harm or sexual abuse or fails to take reasonable steps to protect the child from such a risk while knowing that the child is in such a situation is guilty of an offence. While this would have undoubted applicability in circumstances where individuals known to have abused children were moved to other posts where access to children was unhindered, it is not an offence which has any retrospective application and in the context of the time period which the Murphy Commission was dealing is probably of little or no relevance.

There are nonetheless numerous options available to the DPP should he wish to pursue criminal prosecutions including the possibility of conspiracy, the common law offence of perverting the course of justice and the common law offence of misconduct in public office. It would however require some ingenuity to pursue a case for the first two offences. It is difficult to see how conspiracy in a strict legal sense (an agreement to do an unlawful act or a lawful act by an unlawful means) could be proven in relation to decisions to move priests from particular locations or in relation to the failure to pass on information in relation to allegations to relevant authorities. The Law in this area has always sought to distinguish between a coincidence of actions and agreement and does not seek to punish those combining coincidentally towards achieving shared goals.

The common law offence of perverting the course of public justice requires an act or course of conduct which has a tendency to, and is intended to, pervert the course of public justice. It does appear in general terms that a positive act is required and that inaction would be insufficient to constitute the offence. This offence could perhaps be made out where there was evidence to establish that the commission of an offence had been concealed and again is possibly made out where there is evidence to establish a conspiracy to obstruct An Garda Síochána. Putting the Police on a false trail might be a classic example of that.

It seems that a failure to prosecute itself could not constitute the offence of perverting the course of public justice unless one was able to establish that the failure to prosecute was itself as a result of a corrupt inducement or of a reward or some other benefit. This would seem to be a necessary follow on from the fact that the decision to prosecute is itself a discretionary one vested in either the Director of Public Prosecutions and/or An Garda Siochana depending on the nature of the offence alleged.

The option with the strongest chance of success is the common law offence of misconduct in a public office which was expanded in the English case of R. v. Dytham [1979] QB 722 to bring a prosecution against a police officer for failing to fulfil his obligations
as an officer of justice to intervene in a savage beating that resulted in the death of one of the parties. The Lord Chief Justice in the Court of Appeal in Dytham made clear that the neglect of duty must be wilful and not merely inadvertent, and further that it must be culpable being without reasonable excuse or justification. The level of culpability had to be ‘of such degree that the misconduct impugned is calculated to injure the public interest so as to call for condemnation and punishment.’

Dytham was approved obiter by Mr. Justice Carney in the case of DPP v. Bartley (13 June 1997, unreported), High Court. The accused in this case was convicted of incest. However Justice Carney took the opportunity provided by the case to note that if a member of the Gardaí receives a credible complaint of a felony they are obliged to investigate it. The complainant in this case had approached the Gardaí when she was 12 ½ years old to complain about her stepbrother’s inappropriate behaviour. Her complaint was not taken seriously and she endured a further 25 years of sexual abuse.

The offence of misconduct in public office could potentially be utilised beyond the Gardaí to pursue members of the Gardai who failed to act on information they received and potentially could be further expanded to prosecute Church officials who, by virtue of their position as heads of school boards, etc. held public office.

Despite the clear applicability of this offence, the prosecution of the substantive offences themselves has caused great difficulty for both complainants and accused having regard to the time frame of the activities complained of. It would seem unlikely that prosecutions in relation to institutional failures from that same time period would have a realistic prospect of success.

Rights-based approach to child law

In today’s Irish Times Dr Ursula Kilkelly explores the increasing impact of international law on Ireland’s family law. The sources of international law in this area not only include the seminal Convention on the Rights of the Child, but also law emerging from the Hague Convention on Private International Law and from Europe (Council of Europe and the European Union). As Dr Kilkelly notes

Many of these declarations, treaties and agreements represent collective wisdom, accommodate diverse legal and social systems and reflect a common language and approach to child and family law matters such as adoption, family breakdown and matters of custody and access.

She goes on to highlight that the more recent significant development in this area is the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which came into force on December 1st as part of the Lisbon Treaty. Importantly, the Charter requires that the best interest of the child is a primary consideration in all actions concerning children. It also expects that children’s views be taken into account in matters that concern them. It is clear that in this area the Charter reflects the approach of the CRC and is as a result likely to of major importance in Irish domestic law.

Indeed, it may require a reshaping of Irish law in this area, which continues to think about children in paternalistic terms…. Concepts of “welfare” (all its components), “custody” and “access” should be challenged on the basis of the convention’s influence for their failure to promote effectively the independent rights of children to care and protection and to enjoy contact with and the involvement of both parents in their lives.

Ultimately, whilst Dr Kilkelly notes that

[T]he complexity of Irish family law, into which international and European law is now interwoven, means that lawyers need GPS to navigate its many layers and influences. The changing face of family law in Ireland brings with it the challenge of keeping up with these many new and fast-developing authorities.

She also concludes that there are many positive opportunities that will flow from these fast changing developments:

For those interested in pushing out the limits of Irish family law, in seeing it modernised from within, these inter-related international instruments and their underlying values provide a lens through which Irish family law can be considered afresh.

Using the CRC to protect the child’s rights in youth crime in England and Wales

This blog post was contributed by Dr Kathryn Hollingsworth, Senior Lecturer in Public Law at King’s College London

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is not domestically enforceable in England and Wales, but its profile – and the profile of children’s rights generally – has been raised in recent years thanks to the campaigning efforts of NGOs such as the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, the Howard League for Penal Reform, and UNICEF. On 19th November 2009 a private member’s bill, The Children’s Rights Bill 2009, had its first reading in the House of Lords. The Bill, if passed, will have the effect of incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into UK domestic law, using procedures which mirror those set out in the Human Rights Act 1998 by which the European Convention on Human Rights was ‘brought home’ to the UK.

The chances of the Children’s Rights Bill making its way onto the statute book are slim. But that does not mean that the CRC has no place in English law. In the last five years, the judiciary in England and Wales have increasingly drawn on the CRC in order to interpret the rights of children in domestic law. Lady (previously Baroness) Hale and Lord Justice Munby have been particularly instrumental in this regard. This has had an important and positive impact on the protection of children’s rights, especially in the youth crime context.

The leading decision is R (on the application of R) v Durham Constabulary [2005] UKHL 51, where Baroness Hale made it clear that the CRC must be used to interpret the meaning of the child’s enforceable rights under the ECHR. The case concerned the system of diversion in England and Wales and specifically the question of whether the absence of a requirement for a child to consent to a reprimand or warning constituted a breach of the child’s Article 6 ECHR right. Baroness Hale drew on Article 40(3)(b) and 40(4) CRC, as well as the Beijing Rules and the Riyadh Guidelines, and expressed her ‘grave doubts’ as to whether the system of diversion in England and Wales complied with the CRC (because of its rigidity and because it propels the child more quickly through the criminal justice system). Crucially, however, Baroness Hale pointed out that the lack of a requirement to gain the child’s consent before being issued with a final warning did not breach the child’s enforceable rights under the ECHR.

Despite the unfavourable outcome for the child in this case, Baroness Hale’s dicta is permeating through into other cases. One area of youth crime where the child’s CRC rights are of particular importance is where the child is detained in a custodial institution. Here the CRC can be used to emphasise the child’s status as child – the need to care for the child as a child rather than as a ‘prisoner’. Article 3 CRC can be especially useful here. For example, Mr Justice Munby (as he was then) drew on the CRC in his landmark judgment in R (on the application of Howard League) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2002] EWHC 2497. In particular, the child-specific obligations such as Article 3 CRC imposed ‘on the Prison Service positive obligations to take reasonable and appropriate measures’ designed to ensure that children in YOIs are treated with humanity and with respect for their dignity, and that they are not subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. In particular, when balancing the interests of the child against the wider interests of the community and other inmates, Mr Justice Munby argued that regard should be had to the inherent vulnerability of children in a YOI, and also to the principle that the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration. This approach was followed very recently by the Court of Appeal in R (C) v Secretary of State for Justice [2008] UKCA Civ 882, a judicial review case brought to challenge the regulations which allowed restraint to be used in Secure Training Centres for the purposes of good behaviour and discipline. In this case, the application was successful and the regulations were quashed for breaching Articles 3 and 8 ECHR, both of which were interpreted by taking account of the CRC.

These are just a handful of cases where the CRC has been used successfully to protect the child’s rights in the prison context. But, the Convention has certainly not proved to be a panacea. Even where it is used by the judiciary as an interpretative tool, it can only extend as far as the child’s rights in domestic law or under the ECHR allow. For example, in R (on the application of DT) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] EWHC 13 a girl was being moved from a Local Authority Secure Children’s Home into an adult female prison because of shortage of space. The judge held that an apparent breach of Article 37(c) CRC was irrelevant here (not least because the UK had derogated from that provision but nonetheless it is not directly enforceable) but that the girls’ article 8 ECHR rights were engaged, and the content of these rights could be interpreted in light of the CRC – though only Article 3 because of the derogation from Article 37(c). Although the judge agreed that her Article 8(1) rights were engaged when she was transferred to an adult prison, the restriction was deemed justifiable under Article 8(2) ECHR. More recently in R (on the application of London Secure Services) v Youth Justice Board [2009] EWHC 2347, a JR challenge was brought against the Youth Justice Board for its decision not to re-commission 28 beds in local authority secure homes (the preferred type of institution from a children’s rights perspective for children detained in the secure estate). The challenge was not successful despite Mr Justice Forbes claiming to take into account the child’s rights under the CRC in determining the content of the relevant ECHR rights.

There appears to be only so much the judiciary can do to protect the child’s CRC rights in youth crime. But, although limited, the willingness of the judiciary to draw on the CRC to interpret the meaning of a child’s rights is particularly crucial given the Conservative Party’s pledge to repeal the Human Rights A
a if they are elected in 2010. If this happens, the rights under the ECHR will no longer be domestically enforceable and the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights will presumably decline in relevance to rights protection in England and Wales. This could have serious implications for children in trouble with the law for three reasons: firstly because the Tory’s motivation for replacing the HRA in part comes from the fears that the Human Rights Act is a ‘criminal’s charter’ – it may be the rights of ‘criminals’ which are thus most restricted in any new bill. Secondly, the ECHR has been an invaluable tool in protecting the rights of children detained in custodial institutions. And thirdly, the justification Lady Hale gave for interpreting the child’s ECHR rights in light of the CRC in the Durham Constabulary case was that this is the approach taken by the European Court of Human Rights.

It is crucial that the CRC is seen as an over-arching and consistent presence that is founded in the UK’s ratification of the Treaty and not in the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. If so, the English judiciary can continue to interpret a child’s rights in light of the CRC, regardless of the source of those rights – whether it be the ECHR or a domestic bill of rights. Clearly, the reach of such an approach will depend on the particular bill of rights in force but at the least it should help to ensure that the progress made in the interpretation and enforcement of the child’s rights in area of youth crime in the last 5 years is not lost, even if the Human Rights Act is.