A prominent Castlebar solicitor has branded the treatment of her 14-year-old client by the State ‘a systemic failure’. She also said State must do more to ensure that young people are brought before the courts as quickly as possible.
Defence solicitor Ms Linda Lenehan told Westport Children’s Court last Thursday that continuous delays by gardaí had caused her client unnecessary stress throughout his case.
The youth, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is accused of stabbing another male youth three times at Church Lane, Westport, on June 23 last.
He had been detained at Obertstown Children’s Detention School in Galway for five weeks between September and October last after he breached a number of bail conditions and fled Westport for Galway.
After his subsequent arrest in Galway, Superintendent Mick Murray requested that he be kept there until the October 13 sitting of Westport Children’s Court for safety reasons.
The teenage boy was due to appear in Westport Children’s Court on October 13. However, the Gardaí were late bringing the defendant from Obertstown to Westport, and the case was subsequently struck out by Judge Devins.
Inspector Joe McKenna gave evidence on Thursday and stated that in recent weeks following a Garda request, the DPP had given permission for the charges – which he said were ‘serious and indictable’ – to be re-entered.
The failure of gardaí to bring the case to a conclusion quickly and to bring the youth to court on time was criticised by Ms Lenehan. Commenting on this she said her client had a right to be brought to the court on time after serving his period of time at Oberstown.
Ms Lenehan said, “There has been a systemic failure by the State. This youth is 14 years of age. There should be a greater duty on the State to make sure that people are brought before the courts with greater expedition. This is particularly significant when that person is a child or a young person.”
Inspector McKenna informed Judge Devins that following an alleged incident on October 29 there may be further charges pending against the youth.
Inspector McKenna said he agreed with Judge Devins opinion that it was a little bit unfair that the youth had been re-charged with the same offence, but he added that the serious nature of the charges had facilitated this request.
Ms Ann Marie Tiernan from The Edge Project family-support organisation said she was convinced that the 14 year-old was making a genuine effort to get his life back in order. The court was told that the youth was now avoiding the centre of Westport and was attempting to enroll in a school or a Youthreach programme.
Ms Tiernan added that she had nine weekly meetings with the accused in recent months and that he had twice reluctantly and voluntarily went to Westport Garda Station when he felt under threat from certain individuals
Judge Devins adjourned the case until February 9, 2012, and remarked that she “didn’t want to leave it too long and let the issue with the complainant fester.” In the interim, the boy was directed to continue to engage with The Edge Project and his probation officer.