Section 4 Public Order Act 

(intoxication in a public place) –

family conference

Young Persons Probation 

Section 4 Public Order Act (Intoxication in a Public Place)

Family Conference 

This is the case of a teenager, Mark, who was referred to the Probation Service by the Children Court to convene a family conference under section 78 of the Children Act 2001. Before the referral, the Court Duty Probation Officer met with Mark and his mother to explain the structure, expectations and objectives of the conference. They also asked if Mark accepted responsibility for his behaviour around the offence committed and was willing to make up for the wrong he had done by attending a family conference, after which he would complete some tasks in the community. The Probation Officer further described who might attend such a family conference and the preparation work that would be required. Mark and his mother both agreed to participate in the conference and the case was adjourned for eight weeks.

The offence was committed in the evening in an unstaffed railway station. Mark was part of a group of young people who had an egg fight in the station, before fleeing the area. Mark was later identified on CCTV. The morning after the offence, the early duty station staff and commuters arrived at the station to find it in a mess. The staff had a lot of cleaning to do along with their normal duties, and the commuters had an unpleasant experience of public transport. The stationmaster reported the incident to the Gardaí.

Mark’s appearance before the Children Court was the first time he had been charged with an offence. The Children Act 2001 provides that, on hearing the circumstances of a young person’s offending, the Judge may offer an opportunity to participate in a family conference. If the young person participates to the best of their ability and completes the agreed actions as outlined in an Action Plan, the Judge may strike out the charge. This means that the young person does not receive a criminal record.

The referral was allocated to a Probation Officer in Young Persons Probation section. They liaised with another Probation colleague regarding the role of the conference’s chairperson and agreed the structure and the process for the conference. They met Mark and his mother at home twice to prepare for the process and reflect with them about how the harm done could be addressed. They also telephoned the prosecuting Garda and stationmaster to invite them to participate and to prepare them for doing so. These persons both attended the family conference, alongside Mark, his mother and two Probation Officers who facilitated the conference.

Under the direction of the facilitators, the discussion at this meeting was conducted in a calm, polite and respectful manner. At the outset, Mark expressed his regret for his behaviour and the impact it had on his mother. The stationmaster explained the effects that the offence had on commuters and station staff. The Garda outlined the amount of time involved in dealing with a minor situation when they had to respond to serious matters. Mark acknowledged what the stationmaster and Garda said and confirmed that he was willing to undertake some actions to make amends.

The group discussed a number of possible actions. Mark offered to write a letter of apology to the station staff, which the stationmaster appreciated. He also undertook to make a poster for display at the local Youth Centre that he attended regularly. The poster would highlight the importance of safe, respectful behaviour in train stations. In response to the stationmaster’s request, Mark said he would explain the poster to a group of young children at a Youth Centre meeting. Everyone at the conference felt that the actions agreed matched the offence well. There was a short break in the meeting to enable Mark and his mother to reflect on ad document the actions with a Probation Officer. Following an agreement on the details of the plan, the conference ended with some refreshments and general chat.

Mark completed all the actions within the agreed timeframe. The Probation Officer liaised with the manager of the Youth Centre, enabling Mark to share the poster and his learning with a small group of younger children during a community awareness event. A photograph of the poster was shown to the Judge when Mark returned to Court after completing the actions, and the Judge struck out the case. Mark’s mother also benefitted from the conference in feeling that she was not alone in her efforts to manage her son’s behaviour, while Mark said that he came away with a positive understanding of the work of An Garda Síochána.