‘Fagin’s law’ needed for adults who groom children for crime

Government’s special rapporteur recommends higher age of criminal responsibility

Legislation to prosecute adults who groom children to commit crimes should be enacted as soon as possible, according to the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection.

In his 10th annual report to the Oireachtas, published today, Prof Geoffrey Shannon calls for a "Fagin's law" to target adults who commission children to commit offences such as shoplifting, burglary, carjacking or the carrying of drugs or guns.

Prof Shannon says that the age of criminal responsibility should be increased to 14 for all offences and that the current “highly illogical” system, which sets an age of 12 for most crimes and 10 for more serious offences, such as rape and murder, treats children “punitively rather than therapeutically or protectively”.

The 239-page report covers the effect on children of discrimination, poverty, child pornography, immigration policy, family law, assisted human reproduction, cyberharassment, the child protection system, criminal justice and Brexit. Prof Shannon makes 92 recommendations.


He says: “A statutory offence targeted at adults who groom children to carry out offences on their behalf ought to be introduced in this jurisdiction. A lacuna exists in that regard, and the development of ‘Fagin’s law’ in Victoria provides a useful comparator from which our legislature can develop an appropriate statutory provision.”

Adults in the Australian state face up to 10 years in prison for luring children into criminal activity.

Poverty and children’s rights

Prof Shannon also calls for a greater focus on the impact of poverty and inadequate services on children's rights. There must be "childproofing" in the drawing up of budgets, particularly for marginalised sections of society. "Specific budgetary allocation should be made for Traveller and Roma children and children with disabilities, and these allocations should be protected in times of financial crisis," the report says.

"It must be made clear how all age groups have been considered in budget allocation . . . Ireland should revise poverty-reduction targets for 2020 to better take into account children living in consistent poverty and establish a detailed action plan outlining targets and timeframes."

Prof Shannon adds that more social housing and emergency housing support should be made available as a matter of priority.

Assurances must be given that there will be adequate resources for child-protection services. “There should be . . . more focus on provision of support for families who need it [and] a greater availability of community-based support services.”

There are concerns about Brexit's potential effect on the international operation of child and family law, and Ireland's dealings with the UK on these issues. "What is clear is that family law in the United Kingdom is strongly influenced by its membership of the EU and undoubtedly its exit from the Union will have significant consequences. It is not yet clear what impact Brexit will have on Irish family law . . . This situation must be monitored closely," says Prof Shannon.

Refugees and migrants

With one in five refugees and migrants into Europe now a child , it is "crucial" for authorities to identify the ages of young migrants and refugees, "so they can access the services and protections" they are entitled to. "It is a difficult process, however, as there are no reliable methods to identify age, and there are concerns over the invasiveness of some techniques and the need to respect human dignity."

More robust steps are necessary to ensure children are heard in all legal proceedings affecting them, and “children should be permitted to instruct their own solicitor unless there are compelling reasons inclining against this”.

Certain forms of cyberharassment, including revenge porn, need to be named in law, says the report, “in order to combat such harmful acts which do not necessarily fall within the scope of the current criminal statute book”.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times