The current Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme dates back to the setting-up of a Juvenile Liaison Officer Scheme in the mid-1960s. By 1981, the Scheme had been extended to every Garda Division in the country. However, it was not until the Children Act 2001 (Part 4) that the Scheme, revised and renamed the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme in 1991, was placed on a statutory footing.
Section 18 of the aforementioned Act states that “unless the interests of society otherwise require, any child who has committed an offence and accepts responsibility for his or her criminal behaviour shall be considered for admission to a Diversion Programme.”
The Juvenile Diversion Programme provides that a juvenile offender may be cautioned as an alternative to prosecution if he or she:
It should also be noted that the child must be over the age of criminal responsibility on the date of commission of the offence. (See Part 5 of the Children Act 2001).
Overall responsibility for the programme lies with the National Juvenile Office of An Garda Síochána. The programme is operated under the supervision of the Superintendent, Garda Síochána Community Relations Section, who is known as the Director. Excluding those offences that require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Director makes all decisions regarding the cautioning/ prosecution of the young offender and their admission into the Juvenile Diversion Programme.
A juvenile offender admitted into the programme may receive either an informal caution, or in the case of more serious offences or a repeat caution, a formal caution may be administered.
A child may also agree, as part of a caution, a number of actions which he/she will do to address the hurt that they have caused. This can include an apology to the victim, a form of compensation, a curfew or to take part in a sporting or recreational activity. The Children Act 2001 placed a new emphasis on restorative justice as a means of addressing youth offending.
Children on the programme may also be referred to Garda Youth Diversion Projects.
Specially trained Gardaí, known as Juvenile Liaison Officers (JLOs) implement the Programme. Upon detection of an offence involving a juvenile offender, the JLO for the area where the offender resides is informed of the details of the case and makes enquiries regarding the offender's background and circumstances. The JLO then determines the level of supervision to be applied.
Supervision of juveniles involves contact between the juvenile, the family and the JLO that may occur at any location. The concern of the JLO is to look behind the offence and attempt to see why the juvenile in question has broken the law. The aim of the period of supervision is to facilitate change in the behaviour of the offender that will enable him/her to stop offending. This requires JLOs to develop a good working relationship with the offender while maintaining regular contact with the appropriate statutory and voluntary organisations. The objectives of the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme are stated in Section 19 of the Children Act 2001.
In 2006, a total of 25,080 referrals were made to the National Juvenile Office, an increase of 17% over the previous year.
The Children Act 2001 introduced the concept of Restorative Justice into the criminal justice system as a new means of dealing with juvenile offenders. One of the restorative provisions is the holding of conference in relation to a child who has been admitted to the Juvenile Diversion Programme. The Director appoints a 'facilitator' to convene the conference and a person to be its chairperson. The facilitator is either the Juvenile Liaison Officer supervising the child or another member of an Garda Síochána. The chairperson may be the facilitator, another member of the Garda Síochána or another person.
The purpose of such a conference is to bring together the child in respect of whom the conference is being held, his or her parents or guardian, such other family members, relatives and other persons as appropriate (this may include the victim if he/she agrees to participate) and the facilitator in order to:
Section 44 of the Children Act 2001 set up a Committee to Monitor the Effectiveness of the Diversion Programme. Click here to download their most recent Annual Report (PDF, 167 KB).
One of the priorities for An Garda Síochána in 2008 under the 'Crime Reduction and Prevention' heading is "to expand the Juvenile Liaison Scheme to meet emerging needs in this area". In order to meet this objective, the Gardaí plan to appoint seven additional Juvenile Liaison Officers in 2008.
Additional information is available on citizensinformation.ie.