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What are my rights if I am suspected or accused of a crime while under 18?

Learn more about your rights when it comes to being arrested, searched and questioned


Written by Children's Rights Alliance and posted in life


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This factsheet is an extract from the publication Know Your Rights: The Rights of Children and Young People published by the Children's Rights Alliance. It is reproduced here with their kind permission. Know Your Rights is a public information project designed to inform everyone, in plain language, of the rights and entitlements children have in Ireland and where to go when they are not respected.

In Ireland the age of criminal responsibility is 12 years of age. This means that children who have not reached the age of 12 years cannot be charged with an offence. However, there is an exception for children aged 10 or 11 who can be charged with murder, manslaughter, rape or aggravated sexual assault.

If you are under age of 12 and the Gardaí have reasonable grounds to believe that you have committed an offence they must take you to your parent or guardian.

Your rights if you are suspected or accused of a crime

Can I be searched without a warrant or without my consent?

If a Garda has good reason to think you have committed an offence, they can search you without your consent, This applies to everyone under the age of 18. The Garda does not need the consent of your parent or guardian. The Garda should tell you why you are being searched.

Gardaí usually need a search warrant to search a house or other premises. A court, or sometimes a senior Garda, can issue a search warrant. If a search requires anything more than searching your pockets it should be carried out by a member of the same sex.

Can a Garda search my car?

A Garda can search your car if they have good reason to think that:

  • you have committed or are about to commit an offence under the Offences Against the State Acts, like a homicide or other specific offence, or
  • you have a controlled drug like cannabis or heroin or others specified under the Misuse of Drugs Acts

A Garda can also search your car under various other laws.

When can a Garda enter my home?

Generally, a Garda cannot enter your home without your consent. However, there are some exceptions. The most common is if the Garda has a valid search warrant or is chasing a suspect. A Garda needs a warrant for most entries and searches of property, but not for all. For example, a Garda can enter your home if they believe someone is committing a crime within it.

Are shop security guards or other people allowed to search me?

Security guards and other people do not have any power to search you without your permission. They may only keep you against your wishes if they believe you have committed an offence and are attempting to avoid arrest by the Gardaí. If a security guard or another person does arrest you, they must transfer you to Gardaí as soon as possible. The Gardaí may search you if necessary.

Can the Gardaí arrest me if I am under 18?

The Gardaí have the same powers whether they are dealing with a child, a young person or an adult. But, if you are under 18, the Gardaí must take more account of your age and your level of maturity.

Will the Gardaí tell my parents if I am arrested and brought to a Garda station?

The Garda in charge of the Garda station must tell your parents or guardian that you are in custody, why you are there and that you have the right to a solicitor. This Garda must ask your parents or guardian to come to the station as soon as possible.

Can the Gardaí question me on my own?

No, you have the right to have a solicitor with you during questioning. You may be able to access free legal advice under the Garda Station Legal Advice scheme, for more see the Legal Aid Board Website. If not, you or your parent or guardian will have to pay to have a solicitor with you during questioning.

In addition, if you are under the age of 18, the Gardaí are not allowed to question you or ask you to make a written statement without your parent or guardian present, except if:

  • they cannot get in touch with your parent or guardian
  • your parent or guardian has been told but has not come to the Garda station within a reasonable time
  • the Gardaí believe that people or property might be at risk of harm if questioning is delayed

The Gardaí can refuse to let your parent or guardian sit in on the interview. They can do this if they believe that your parent or guardian could have been involved in the suspected offence or that their presence might cause an obstruction of justice. This might happen, for example, if the Gardaí thought your parent might interfere with the interview process.

However, if the Gardaí want to question you without one parent or guardian present, they must try and arrange for your other parent, another relative or some other responsible adult to be present at the interview.

Where will I be held in the Garda station?

The Garda in charge of the Garda station must make sure that you are not detained with adults unless there is no other secure accommodation available. 

Do I have the right to know the reason for my arrest?

Yes. You have the right to be told in clear, easy to-understand language that you are under arrest and the reason why.

Need more information?

We are here to answer your questions and talk through your options. Our online chat service is for 16 to 25 year olds and is available Monday to Friday, 4pm to 8pm. Chat to us now about your situation.

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Published June 17th2020
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