PRINCIPLES OF JUVENILE JUSTICE
The Principles of Juvenile Justice No Longer Apply When Children Commit
Serious or Violent Crimes
Eleanor Teresa Leane*
The issue of the treatment of youth offenders and, in particular, serious
and violent youth offenders, has come to the attention of policymakers and
practitioners across the country once again following recent horrific and
extremely violent crimes involving young teenagers.
Most notably, two seventeen year old youths were charged in Limerick
with an arson attack on a car in the city, in which two very young children
were badly burned.1 Police in the North of the country have also charged two
teenagers after the rape of a young woman.2 How are these young people to be
held accountable for their actions when they themselves are only children? Or
have they lost the protections and legal status that youth affords them when
they are involved in such horrendous and shocking crimes? This seems to be
the course of action we have taken on previous occasions in Ireland. The
Children’s Act 2001 provides for some change to the procedures concerning
children who commit crime but it is unlikely that any of these protections will
be extended to children and teenagers who are involved in serious crime.
Hanly3 recognizes one of the main difficulties in the administration of
juvenile justice, which is that, “children are not adults and cannot be treated
as adults.” Children, as a result of their age and maturity, can fundamentally
not be held as responsible as adults for their criminal actions and undoubtedly
require different and separate treatment as well as protections beyond those
enjoyed by adults in the criminal justice system.4 As a result, juvenile justice
systems have developed across States in order to facilitate the differential
treatment of juvenile offenders.5
Yet however evident this requirement for differential treatment may be
in the context of minor offences, there remains a difficult question with regard
* LLB (Law & Europ ean Studies), LLM (Criminal Just ice).
1 RTE News, “Two in court over Limerick arson attac k”, September 19, 2006 available a t
2 “Two for court aft er Belfast assault”, 10th Decembe r 2006, available at www.ireland.c om.
3 Hanly, C., “Child Offenders: The Changing Respons e of Irish Law”  19 D.U.L.J . 113.
See also Doob and Tonry, ‘Varieties of Youth Justice ’  31 Crime and Justice 1.
4 According to Rule 2(2) (a) UN Standard Minimum Rules for the
Administration of Juvenile Justice (“The Beijing Ru les”): “A juvenile is a child or you ng
person who, under the respective legal systems, may be dealt with for an offence in a m anner
which is different f rom an adult”, adopted by Gener al Assembly Resolution 40/33 of 2 9
November 1985. T he rules can be accessed under w ww.unhchr.ch.
5 Take for example Children’s Courts which have deve loped to protect young people wh o
commit crime from the severity of the adversarial ad ult criminal justice system. Furth ermore
sentencing practic e and principles as well as diversi onary practices with regard to juv enile
offenders are requ ired to focus on the welfare of the child as well as the child’s
rehabilitation and reintegration into society. For a c omprehensive analysis of the juven ile
justice system in I reland, see Walsh, “Juvenile Justi ce,” (Thomson Roundhall, 2005).