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Children’s Court Offences

Some things you should know about what the prosecution must prove

Whatever offence brings a child before the Children’s Court the manner in which evidence is adduced and the burden on the prosecution to prove all the elements of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt will remain the same. There are, however, additional requirements placed on police when it comes to prosecuting children.

The age of criminal responsibility – Doli Incapax

Section 5 of the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987 provides a statutory presumption that no child who is under the age of 10 years can be guilty of an offence. This presumption cannot be rebutted. If a child is between the age of 10 and 14 the common law provides the presumption of doli incapax. This presumption can be rebutted. This presumption provides that a child in this age bracket does not possess the necessary knowledge to have a criminal intention. The prosecution must rebut this presumption as an element of the prosecution case. In other words, the prosecution must produce evidence that the child knew their actions were seriously wrong as opposed to just naughty. The older the child is, the easier it will be for the prosecution to prove guilty knowledge. What is important about this area of law is that doli incapax is not a defence but an element of the prosecution case. If this evidence does not appear in the prosecution case for example, then there is no case to answer.

Requirement of a support person to be present in relation to obtaining an admission

Section 13 of the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act provides that any admission obtained from a child will not be admissible unless a parent, a person responsible for the child or a legal practitioner was present. If you are above the age of 14 then any adult with the consent of the child is permissible. Unless a judicial officer is satisfied that there were proper and sufficient reasons for the absence of an adult during the obtaining of any admission then this evidence will not be admitted. In many cases the admission of a child is paramount for the police to prove their case.

Jurisdiction of the Children’s Court

Section 28 of the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act provides that a Children’s Court has the jurisdiction to hear and determine proceedings in respect of any offence whether indictable or otherwise other than a serious children’s indictable offence. This means that the Children’s Court deals with more serious offences than would otherwise be dealt with in the local court. This includes all offences with the exception of the below:

  • Homicide;
  • Any offence that carries a penalty greater than 25 years imprisonment;
  • Serious sexual assaults; and
  • Any offence relating to the manufacture of firearms where the penalty is greater than 20 years imprisonment.

The above offences are serious children’s indictable offences and will not be dealt with in the Children’s Court.

While the majority of all other indictable offences will be dealt with in the Children’s Court, section 31(3) of the Children’s Criminal Proceedings Act allows indictable offences to be committed to the District Court in certain circumstances. Amongst other things, the Children’s Court would have to consider the indictable offence very serious to transfer the matter to the District Court. An example could be a violent robbery in combination with a lengthy criminal history or a driving offence where the manner of driving was particularly dangerous and resulted in death or serious injury.

Traffic Offences and Children

Section 28 of the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act provides that the Children’s Court does not have jurisdiction to hear or determine proceedings in respect of traffic offences unless:

  • The offence arose out of the same circumstances as another offence that has been alleged to have been committed by the young person; or
  • The young person was not, when the offence was committed, old enough to obtain a licence authorising the person to drive the motor vehicle to which the offence relates.

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