I move amendment No. 1:
In page 8, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:
“(a) by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (2):
“(2A) The maximum total period that a child may spend remanded in custody is three months from the date of being remanded in custody by the Court.”.”.
We discussed this issue on Committee Stage. I have tabled a number of amendments, but this is one of the two most important. The objective is to place an upper limit of three months on the time a child can spend remanded in custody. The amendment should be considered in the context of the purpose of the Bill which is to move away from detaining children who get into trouble.
Custody on remand is detention in circumstances where a person has not been convicted of a crime and may never be. We need to bear in mind that it should always be a minimum period for everybody. The Irish Penal Reform Trust recommends six months as the absolute maximum in all cases. My amendment seeks to have a limit of three months because three months in the context of a child's life is perfectly balanced.
We should remember that four out of ten children in custody on remand have an intellectual disability. They often come from families where one family member has a criminal conviction. The majority of these children have behavioural problems, mental health difficulties and so on and often experience drug and substance abuse. They are vulnerable young people who need our support. I do not believe we can in any way stand over their being detained for periods of indefinite duration. My amendment seeks to place a time limit on that period.
Most of the young people in question end up getting no sentence. In 2014 only 27% of the young people detained received a detention order on conviction. In 2013 the figure was 45%. Therefore, between one half and three quarters of them end up not getting a conviction. We need to keep their time in incarceration to a minimum because of the damage it can potentially do to young people.
We discussed this issue on Committee Stage. When children are remanded in custody, it is incredibly important to separate them from those who have been convicted. The Bill, as it stands, states we should seek to do this as far as is practicable. I want this to be the case in all circumstances. On Committee Stage the Minister said he was striving to do this but that we would not have the level of accommodation necessary. There is no assigned remand unit on the Oberstown campus. There has been a consistently high number of children remanded, which means that the issue of solitary confinement that the Minister raised on Committee Stage would not arise.
The Bill is supposed to be about prevention. The young people concerned need sustained intervention. One of the problems lies with people being remanded in custody, for example, for breach of bail conditions. This has to stop, as we said on Committee Stage. People who are given bail are not given sufficient support to be able to understand the conditions set, to work with them and so on. We need community programmes. Non-detention-based initiatives have to be implemented while people are awaiting trial. The amendment would encourage this. This is about having an upper limit and giving less wriggle room to the State in that regard.
On Committee Stage the Minister said that what I was trying to do represented a blunt instrument and that it would not take into account the circumstances that gave rise to the remand in custody and that very serious charges might be a factor. He also mentioned the issue of the importance of the safety of the public. Putting an upper limit on the time somebody can spend on remand has nothing to do with any of these issues. I do not suggest not detaining them. I am saying they should be detained for a maximum of three months and that they should then be dealt with at trial. If they are convicted and there is to be a further period of detention, so be it, but they should not be kept in abeyance in the run-up to this. That is entirely consistent with human rights practices and what happens in other countries. I could list a range of international human rights agreements that support my view. In England, for example, time spent in custody on remand is limited to six months. In Spain it is only for very serious crimes and never for minor offences. When dealing with children, the maximum length of time spent in custody is three months. In Portugal I believe it is also three months. That is all I seek to do. I hope the Minister will reconsider the matter.