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Children and the Criminal Justice System

March 13, 2010 4 comments

The return of Jon Venables, one of the men (then boys) convicted of the murder of Jamie Bulger has sparked a fresh debate on how we respond to children who commit crimes and what we expect the criminal justice system to achieve in such cases.

Today the Ministry of Justice in the UK has announced that it has rejected calls to raise the age of criminal responsibility from ten to twelve. Scotland is in the process of amending its legislation to raise the age of responsibility from eight to twelve. Ireland made similar moves in 2001 under the Childrens Act, however in serious cases (murder, manslaughter, rape or aggravated assault) ten or eleven year olds can be prosecuted. Read more…

Terence Wheelock

March 11, 2010 17 comments

As Yvonne noted yesterday, the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission have published their report into the death of Terrence Wheelock. They found no evidence that Mr Wheelock had been phsyically or sexually assaulted in custody but did make a number of recommendations as regards Garda procedure, which Yvonne has detailed. The Wheelock family remain dissatisfied and have announced that they are seeking a full public inquiry and have threatened to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights.

At this point a number of observations can be made about the both the findings contained in the report but also the procedure adopted by the Commission. Read more…

Categories: Policing Tags: ,

DNA database developments in the UK

March 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Following the European Court of Human Rights decision in the Marper case, the UK have been required to reconsider their approach to the holding of profiles on the DNA Database. The system which the ECHR rejected involved the indefinite holding of samples from suspects of crimes, unless authorisation for destruction was granted, which it rarely was. The previous UK plans, discussed here, proposed retention of samples for up to six years, without any limitations to serious offences.

It has been announced today that the Home Affairs Select Committee has rejected these proposals, arguing that there is no need to keep samples for more than three years, particularly when consideration is given to the low number of cases in which such DNA evidence is probative. This Committee states a maximum of three years should apply. The House of Commons will vote on the government proposals today and the Guardian reports that the House of Lords is expected to reject the proposals. It is also expected that a new agency will be established to determine when samples should be destroyed, removing this power from Chief Constables.

Again, given the on-going debates in Ireland, these debates will be watched intensly here.

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Call for Papers – European Group for Study of Crime and Deviance

March 3, 2010 Leave a comment

European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control
British and Irish section conference
14th – 16th April 2010
Manchester Metropolitan University

Standing in the Gaps: Challenging the Entitlement of the Powerful

This conference is dedicated to the life and work of Karen Leander who was a tireless campaigner on the rights of women and who fought against the entitlement of patriarchy and oppressive state power. The conference provides an opportunity to challenge the assumptions of ‘entitlement’, whether it be entitlement born of gender, ethnicity, class, of politi-cal access, of economic resources, to funding, or of sexual freedom. The European Group continues to develop a critical, emancipatory and innovative criminology, to provide a forum for and recognition of challenging research, study and activism. Read more…

Change in an Garda Síochána

February 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Prof Peter Manning, holder of the Brooks Chair of Criminal Justice in Northeastern University, will be speaking in Queen’s University Belfast today on Change in an Garda Síochána. The talk is at 4pm in G10N Lanyon.

Interference with Prosecutions

February 24, 2010 2 comments

The resignation of Mr Sargent from his role of Minister of State last night relates to a central element of the criminal justice system in Ireland – prosecutorial independence.

The Prosecution of Offences Act 1974, which created the office of the DPP, was introduced in part to reduce the demands made on the office of the AG who was also legal advisor to government, a role that had become more demanding since Ireland joined the EEC in 1972, but also due to an increasing need for independence from government in the prosecution of offences. While the AG is a political appointee who falls with the government, the DPP is defined as a civil servant who is ‘independent in the performance of his functions.’ Neither the government nor the AG can question him on the exercise of his functions. The DPP has stated in his reports that this independence is essential to safeguard the citizen against arbitrary, unjust or improperly motivated prosecutions. Enhancing this independence, under s.6, communication with the AG, or his agent, the DPP or his agent or a member of an Garda Síochána or a solicitor acting on behalf of the AG or the DPP in an official capacity, in relation to decisions to prosecute, the withdrawal of initiated proceedings, decisions not to charge or to withdraw charges, is made unlawful by the legislation. Indeed, the section specifically instructs the prosecutor not ‘to entertain’ any such unlawful communication. Excluded from this are defendants, complaints, or communications from those acting as a medical or legal advisor, social worked or family member. But a politician cannot engage in any discussions with the DPP or any of the above named persons about the prosecution in a case which affects a constituent (either as defendant or victim). Read more…

Ill-treatment in custody

February 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Further to Yvonne’s post last week it is worth noting that the decision by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture to present an interim report to the Minister for Justice was a highly unusual step, one only taken when there is ‘a glaring example of where care is lacking’. In its report, which followed visits by the Committee to police stations, prisons, mental health hospital and, for the first time, an establishment for the intellectually disabled. The head of th delegation clarified that the substance of this report did not relate to overcrowding in prisons, but to specific issues of ill-treatment.
This statement from the ECPT (details of the visit available here) comes at the same time that the Mental Health Commission has revealed that it has written to three mental health facilities in the country to warn them that they may face closure if they do not address the ‘inhuman’ conditions which residents were being subjected to. The Irish Times reports,

The move follows visits by the Inspectorate of Mental Health Services which found that wards in a number of older psychiatric hospitals were “unfit for human habitation”.

Some of the harshest criticism was made of St Loman’s Hospital in Mullingar,

Two wards in St Loman’s hospital were in “poor condition and unfit for human habitation and should be decommissioned as a matter of urgency”, while other wards were “dilapidated, desolate and depressing”.
At St Ita’s, a total of 125 people were being forced to live in “appalling conditions” and it was “difficult to convey the extent of dilapidation”. “Long corridors in poor conditions, toilets with no privacy, paint peeling, mould in showers, broken furniture, ill-fitting doors, cramped dormitories, a smell of urine, poor ventilation and a bare drab environment were clearly evident.”

These two reports indicate the crisis state of the treatment of individuals in places of detention in Ireland. Ireland has long been criticised by the ECPT for its treatment of persons in custody yet the Government has not responded adequately. This highly unusual move taken by the committee, to submit interim findings, must be taken seriously by the Government. As Yvonne noted both the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Irish Penal Reform Trust have called on the Government to publish this report from the ECPT, but as yet, no response is forthcoming.