District Court: Child guilty of several dangerous driving offences without a licence has detention deferred

Dolphin HouseA boy who was found guilty of numerous dangerous driving charges involving stolen vehicles, has been given a Deferment of Detention Order in the District Court.

In a recently published judgment, Judge John O’Connor stated that, since the child had engaged well recently with his Bail Support and with the Probation Service, it was appropriate to consider alternatives to detention in line with the Children Act 2001.

Background

Judge O’Connor explained that the 17-year-old boy at the centre of the proceedings (TC) was residing in a bed and breakfast with his family, who had a long history of homelessness. The Court heard that he had been a ‘pleasant and engaged student’ while in school, but that due to the family’s “fractured living arrangements” there had been issues with his attendance and he ultimately left school after completing his junior certificate.

The boy’s offending began in January 2016, when he was driving a scrambler motorbike in Dublin without a driving licence, and crashed in to two cars. The Court heard that the owners only had third-party insurance and were therefore not covered financially for the loss of the car.

The next offence occurred on St Patrick’s Day 2016, after the boy had “consumed a significant amount of tablets”. Again without a licence, the boy was involved in a high speed chase from Gardaí on the M50 in a stolen car.

The third incident occurred in July 2016, while the boy was on bail on other charges. Judge O’Connor explained; “…the victim’s car was stolen and driven by TC in a dangerous manner. As a result of the incident the car was a write off. The owner of the car in this case informed the Court very movingly that the consequences of the loss of the car meant she had no car for a considerable period. At the time of the incident, her husband was seriously ill in hospital. Her husband subsequently died and she attended court on the first anniversary of his death”.

The fourth incident, in November 2016, again occurred while the boy was on bail on other charges. The Court heard that the boy was driving a stolen car at speed on the N3 in Dublin, having broken red lights he collided with a Volkswagen Golf driven by a Parish Priest. The Priest suffered broken ankles and a hairline fractures on the top his knee, spent six weeks in hospital and had not fully recovered by the time of the hearing. In a victim impact statement, the Priest stated that he was aware that the boy “was involved in a number of road traffic accidents and in his view the decisions to act or not around that impacted and continue to impact directly on him”. He was also conscious that a family had been deprived of their car, and that since the boy was uninsured this made it difficult for insurance purposes for claims.

Sentencing

At the outset of the discussion on sentencing, Judge O’Connor stated: “Justice and welfare concerns are issues in any juvenile sentencing in criminal law matters. A welfare concern focuses on the child’s needs and rehabilitation rather than the establishment of criminal responsibility. A justice model promotes children rights, but it also has the potential to be excessively punitive and it has the potential to pay insufficient attention to a child’s capacity and childhood issues”.

In this regard, Judge O’Connor considered the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989; the Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No 10 (2007) on juvenile justice; thee UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice; the UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty; the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Non-Custodial Measures; the European Convention on Human Rights.

Further, Judge O’Connor explained that the Children’s Court is pro-active in promoting restorative Justice, and that any sentence for a child must, unless otherwise determined by statute, be individualistic and focused on the child.

In this case, the offences were as follows:

  1. No driving licence under section 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1961
  2. No insurance under section 56 Road Traffic Act 1961
  3. Dangerous driving under section 53 (1) of the Road Traffic Act 1961
  4. Use of a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner under section 112 Road Traffic Act 1961

Aggravating factors:

  1. the persistent offending while on bail;
  2. the persistent disregard for human life;
  3. the failure to remain on the scene of the accident;
  4. the disregard for the court orders and failure to appear in court.

Mitigating factors:

  1. The age of the child;
  2. The lack of previous conviction;
  3. The personal circumstances of the child;
  4. The pleas of guilty;
  5. The remorse of the child.

Taking these factors into account, in addition to a probation report, Judge O’Connor stated that the starting point was two years’ detention; with an appropriate reduction of 25% for mitigating factors.

However, as the child had engaged well with his Bail Support and with the Probation Service; Judge O’Connor was satisfied that the appropriate sentence was a Deferment of Detention Order under section 144 of the Children Act 2001

The boy was also disqualified from driving for six years.

  • by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News