Here are some photos of the Children’s Court in Smithfield, Dublin 7. All part of the background research for the next Moss Reid mystery.
It’s a sad little place, like many a court, but perhaps even sadder again because it deals with kids under 18 years of age.
Normally its proceedings aren’t in public. We were shown around the court by an architect during Open House Dublin in October 2013 – a splendid free festival in which you get to see hidden corners of your own city.
The building dates from 1987 and used to be called the Juvenile Court until 2002. Open House describes it as “one of Dublin’s prime examples of Post-Modernism”.
Architect John Tuomey aimed to create a building “with some lightness, to lift the weight of oppression off the individual, no matter how hardened he may be”.
Inside the entrance is a waiting area, long wooden benches. While the colour scheme is now soft pastels, the original primary colours are beginning to show through here and there. You can see the garish red that the columns were originally painted, peeping through the scratches of graffiti.
The hall leads to a seriously long and forbidding set of steps up to the courtrooms on a higher floor.
Upstairs opens out to a light space, with soundproof doors into the courtroom. Yet these higher floors are somehow reminiscent of prison landings.
The courtroom itself is small. Hardly bigger than the space for the jury in a grown-ups court, and with hardly a dozen chairs. The furniture seems smallscale too, designed to make the children feel at home.
Under court rules the proceedings are in camera. Those entitled to attend include officers of the court, the parties and their legal representatives, witnesses, and an adult relative of the child.
The holding cells down below (no photos I’m afraid) are small and claustrophobic – even for the casual visitor. The stink of urine and more graffiti.
What most of us will never see is all the paperwork that floats around each case. The charge sheet alone – one for each offence charged – has name, address, date of birth, Garda PULSE ID of the defendant, guardian’s name and address, name and ID of arresting officer; charge sheet number; offence code, basis in legislation, date of offence, brief description of the charges, court case number, date and outcome of all court appearances relating to the charge sheet…
The most common crimes it deals with are road traffic offences, public order offences (“generally linked to alcohol consumption”) and theft. The Children’s Court deals with most criminal offences that have been committed by children. One exception is manslaughter, which goes to the Central Criminal Court.
It’s the only specific court dealing with children, though some other District Courts around the country dedicate certain days to cases involving children.
The odds are nine in ten that the defendants are male.
The odds are that they don’t live with both their parents and they aren’t in full-time education.
On average, the statistics say, they’ve waited at least six months for their first court appearance, and they will make eight court appearances in respect of each charge.
Three in ten of those convicted will be put on probation. About the same amount will be sentenced to detention.
If you’re under 16 years you’ll be sentenced to a Children Detention School where the average sentence is two years. If you’re over 16 you’ll probably end up in St Pat’s – St Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders, on an average sentence of less than 12 months.
So that’s some of this morning’s background research.
Postscript: In the end the story – as stories often do – turned into a different beast, and the Children’s Court never ended up in the book…