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First-of-its-kind study on children's experiences of their rights during police questioning in Ireland

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Dr Louise Forde, Lecturer in Law at Brunel University London, has published a landmark research report with colleague Prof. Ursula Kilkelly (School of Law, University College Cork) on Children’s Rights and Police Questioning: A Qualitative Study of Children’s Experiences of being interviewed by the Garda Síochána.  The study, funded by the Policing Authority, is the first research in Ireland to explore the experiences of children being questioned by members of the Garda Síochána (Irish police) as suspects.

When children come into conflict with the law, they are entitled to benefit from a range of legal protections.  These rights are set out in international human rights law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights.  These standards are clear that children require significant protections in their interactions with the criminal justice system, including when they are being questioned by police.  Additional guidelines, such as those contained in the Child-Friendly Justice Guidelines, make it clear that adaptations to the criminal justice process are required so that children can exercise their rights.

While research has been carried out in the United Kingdom and other jurisdictions on children’s experiences of questioning, the research published last week represents the first examination into the experiences of children being questioned by police in Ireland.

The research consisted of a small-scale study that aimed to document the experiences of children questioned by members of the Garda Síochána.  Semi-structured interviews were carried out with children, members of the Garda Síochána, lawyers and parents. 

The findings of the study highlighted a number of difficulties children experience in exercising their rights when being questioned by police in Ireland.  The provision of appropriate information, the role of parents and guardians in the questioning process, and issues relating to children’s exercise of their right to legal advice arose during the study.  The findings also highlighted concerns exist around the treatment of some children during arrest or while in police custody, and inappropriate facilities for children held in Garda custody. 

The study also documented examples of positive practice by members of the Garda Síochána.  It was clear from the study that although practice was not consistent across the board, children’s experiences are significantly impacted by the approach of individual members of the Garda Síochána.  The report makes several recommendations for the development of policy and practice on the questioning of children to increase compliance with international children’s rights standards.  The report was discussed at a public meeting between the Policing Authority and the Garda Commissioner on Thursday 25th February 2021.

Louise joined Brunel in September 2020, and currently teaches Criminal Law and Legal Skills.  The full research report is available through the following link: Children’s Rights and Police Questioning: A Qualitative Study of Children’s Experiences of being interviewed by the Garda Síochána