Wednesday, 7 April 2010

CCJHR Seminar - Children's rights: The Proposed Constitutional Amendment

The Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights at UCC is pleased to announce the following seminar:

Children’s Rights: The Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Thursday April 15, 12.00-2.30 pm

Venue:
Room LG 52
Cavanagh Pharmacy Building
College Road
Cork

Speakers

The seminar will be chaired by Dr Ursula Kilkelly.

Light refreshments will be provided.

A limited number of places are available, so please register your interest in attending by e-mailing conor.omahony@ucc.ie.

2 Hours of CPD points are available for attendance at this event.

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Sunday, 6 April 2008

Plenary 4: Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan - Respecting the Voice of the Child

Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan began by giving a brief background to her Office. It has been in operation for three years and began with fifteen staff and a small budget of €280,000. The Office has so far received 1700 complaints from children. Children were involved from the very establishment of the office. A constant theme that ran throughout Logan’s address is that the voice of the child is all important. Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child addresses this issue; the child has a right to form their own views and to be heard.

In Ombudsman Logan’s experience children attach a great weight to being heard during decisions that may affect them. Many complaints to the Office have come from children who have been subject to administrative decisions with the decision makers underestimating the effect of such decisions on the child. There is a consistent denial of the right to participate in decisions and Ombudsman Logan expressly mentioned the issue of family separation. Other complaints from children involve children in the care of the state. Children are often troubled by their lack of access to siblings when they are in care. Logan pointed out that decision makers often claim to have carried out a comprehensive examination of a particular situation but may not in fact ascertain what the child thinks should happen. Logan also highlighted the recent criticism of teachers about student’s behaviour in class. Their complaints are about very minor disruption and Logan expressed her disappointment about this.

She then presented a series of pictures on power point to reveal a number of findings. She showed that young people often have the capacity to be comfortable with issues such as death that adults are not so comfortable with. A child should never be underestimated because of their age. There are different ways to engage young people to find out what their views are, art is a good example. Participation of the child does not always have to be resource intensive.

She then went on to show two DVD presentations. The first was of a boy from the Travelling Community talking about his experience in education. Logan pointed out that when he was asked to take part in the DVD he wanted someone else’s voice to be used as he was embarrassed about how he would come across. In fact he highlighted the issues he faced perfectly through his own voice. The second DVD presentation was of the Big Ballot that the Office recently carried out. 75,000 children in 500 schools took part across a broad section of the community. The ballot sought to find out what were the concerns facing children in Ireland today at a time of rapid change. Not everyone is happy with the work of the Office and one individual did bring a legal challenge against the ballot for undermining the place of the family in the Irish Constitution.

In conclusion Ombudsman Logan stressed that legislation is required to properly hear the voice of the child. People working with children can make the difference while waiting for this change.

Summary provided by LL.M (Criminal Justice) candidate, John Cronin.

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Saturday, 5 April 2008

Semi-Plenary II – Policing, Accountability and Youth Justice

This second of two semi-plenary sessions comprised a presentation by Niamh McKeague of the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) followed by a Q&A session from the floor with Ms. McKeague and Michael O’Neill BL, Legal Advisor to the GSOC. The session was chaired by Sophie McGuinness of the Office of the Ombudsman for Children.

Ms. McKeague began by outlining the functions and processes of the GSOC as provided for by the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The GSOC began to operate in May 2007 and can consider complaints relating to Garda conduct (including breach of discipline), investigate any practice, policy or procedure of the Gardaí with a view to reducing the level of complaints relating thereto, and consider matters referred by either the Garda Commissioner or the Minister for Justice.
After outlining the remit, functions and processes of the GSOC Ms. McKeague proceeded to provide a number of statistics about the Commission’s work up to the end of January 2008. From its establishment to the end of January 2008 the Commission had received over 2000 complaints, just under 2% of which had come from children and young people. The Act provides that a complaint may be made by any member of the public and does not impose any age-related standing requirements for complainants, therefore children are eligible to submit complaints to the commission. It was on the appropriate way to deal with such complaints, and the particular challenges arising therefrom, that the remainder of the presentation focused. More information on the GSOC is available here.

Ms. McKeague firstly considered the challenge of deciding on the definition of ‘child’ for the purposes of the GSOC – although the Act does not prohibit children from complaining, it does not offer any substantive guidance on the particular challenges connected thereto. Having considered the various ages by which childhood is defined in different instruments (UNCRC – 18; Non Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997 – 16;12 for criminal responsibility) the GSOC decided to treat all complainants under the age of 18 as child complainants in order to ensure that, as much as possible, potentially vulnerable complainants would be identified and appropriately dealt with. In this connection she also noted the commitment of GSOC to providing appropriate training to GSOC staff and the cooperation between GSOC and the Office of the Ombudsman for Children in equipping the GSOC to deal with child complainants.

Ms. McKeague then addressed two particular challenges to the GSOC in dealing with child complaints. The first related to information and the provision of information to certain parties once a complaint had been lodged. She noted the importance of making it clear to child complainants that GSOC can not guarantee the absolute confidentiality of complaints, particularly since s. 103 requires that all interested parties be kept informed about the progress and results of an investigation. In this context, interested parties might, she reflected, sometimes include parents of the child complainant. The issues surrounding information are further complicated by s. 81 of the Act which prohibits the disclosure of information to anyone where such disclosure may have a harmful effect. Although certain bodies are exempted from causing harmful effect through receipt of information, the HSE and parents are not included in this list. Thus, the investigators must make a case by case determination of whether or not disclosure of information to a non-exempted party such as parents or the HSE might have a harmful effect and advise the individual commissioners in each case as to whether or not they can sanction release of information. The disclosure of information in violation of s. 81 can result in criminal sanctions and can therefore cause significant difficulties for investigators working in the GSOC.

Ms. McKeague also considered the difficulties relating to duty of care. While all parties accept that there is a duty of care to children, certain structures involve numerous actors all of which may have a duty of care but where there is no clear delineation of whether one party’s duty stops and another’s begins. In this context she referred specifically to the area of child protection and the Children First strategy in which parents, the HSE and an Garda Síochána are all relevant actors. Children First has been incorporated into the Garda code, therefore a question arises as to whether or not a member could be investigated for and found to have engaged in dereliction of duty for not acting in a particular way in relation to a child and the difficulties that would pose in a situation where there is no clear delineation of duties between the three main actors.

Finally Ms. McKeague reflected on the usefulness of meaningful communication and co-operation between GSOC and various different bodies in developing a policy relating to child complainants and considering the manner in which the questions that arise in the early stages a new scheme can be resolved in a manner that ensures the paramouncy of the child’s best interests.

The Q&A session involved a fruitful exchange between the representatives of the GSOC and delegates from Include Youth (Edel Quinn), Children’s Law Centre (Paddy Kelly), Finglas Child and Adolescent Centre (Colette Walsh), the Bar (Mary Ellen Ring SC), and the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan.


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