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Children in conflict with the law

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They are called juveniles, and any time they come in conflict with the law their actions are viewed as juvenile delinquency, according to the present Juvenile Act. The OECS proposed legislation, which is a bill at this point, intends to eradicate forever the use of the word “juvenile,” and even after the individual is found guilty of an offence, he or she is a child and not a juvenile.{{more}} A child who is in conflict with the law means a child who is alleged to have committed an offence and he or she is a person under the age of eighteen years.

Criminal liability

Our present laws say a child under the age of eight years is not criminally responsible, but the OECS bill raises the age of criminal liability for an offender to the age of twelve years. This means that a child under the age of twelve years is not capable of or guilty of committing a criminal offence.

Further, there is a special consideration for a child in the age group of twelve to fourteen years. A child in this age group is not criminally responsible for an act or omission “unless it is proved that at the time of doing the act or making the omissions he or she had the capacity to know that he or she ought not to do the act or make the omission’. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) must issue a certificate indicating his or her intention to prosecute. If it is not done within fourteen days, then it must be taken that there is no intention to prosecute.

Child Justice Committee

The Act requires the formation of a Child Justice Committee. Extensive power is invested in this committee which would consist of a magistrate and two social workers. A majority decision is required in all cases but where this is not arrived at, the opinion of the magistrate will prevail. One of the main duties of the Child Justice Committee is to carry out initial enquiry into offences committed by the child who is brought before it. They constitute the third stage in the line of officials that the child in conflict with the law would have to face; the first and second stage being contact with a police officer and the probation officer, respectively.

Assessment

Assessment of the child is one of the important exercises that must be carried out when the child is taken into custody. On being informed by a police officer, a probation officer is required to assess the child in a place that is conducive to privacy. The parents or persons responsible for the child must be informed and are required to be present at the assessment. Other persons who may attend the assessment session include the DPP, an attorney-at-law representing the child (if any), a police officer or any other person permitted by the probation officer. The probation officer must produce a report, but the information would not be admissible in court proceedings against the child.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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