Dr John O’Connor, Judge of the Circuit Court, presented the 16th Annual Martin Tansey Memorial Lecture, 2023


Dr John O’Connor, Judge of the Circuit Court, presented the 16th Annual Martin Tansey Memorial Lecture, “Judicial Discretion and the Justice and Welfare Dichotomy: The Sentencing of Children in the Irish Youth Justice System”. Dr John O’Connor is a Judge of the Circuit Court and an Honorary Professor of Law at Nottingham Trent University.

The Lecture took place on Thursday, 20th April, 2023 in the Criminal Courts of Justice.

To view a copy of Judge O'Connor's Lecture, please click here.

About the Lecture

The 16th Annual Martin Tansey Memorial Lecture was delivered by Dr John O’Connor. Drawing on his experience as a judge in the Children Court in Dublin for nearly six years, he outlined some of his findings in his doctrinal research on judicial decisions on childhood offending, with particular emphasis on sexual offences in the context of the justice and welfare debate in Ireland. 

Dr O’Connor explored the nature of judicial decisions in child and adolescent offending in the context of the justice and welfare debate in Ireland, with particular emphasis on youth sexual offending. He did so by reference to the Children Act 2001, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and extensive literature researched in the area.

His research is the first study in Ireland to explore the complex terrain of juvenile sexual offending and judicial sentencing in the Irish youth justice system on sexual offending.

Qualitative semi-structured interviews with judges and young people’s probation officers, combined with an interrogation of best practice in such countries as New Zealand, England and Wales, and the United States of America, were central to the methodology. By adopting qualitative mixed methodology and a combination of doctrinal socio-legal and comparative analysis, his research contends that, although Irish youth justice has made substantial progress in recent years, this progress has not necessarily transferred to judicial sentencing for sexual offences. It is acknowledged that children who sexually offend are not a homogenous group and are amenable to therapeutic interventions that assist in reducing or eliminating recidivism.

Among the issues explored were the implications of personal issues such as the age, maturity and neuro developmental nature of children and adolescents who sexually offend and the implications for sentencing. Findings in this research point to a paucity of resources to deal effectively with children who sexually offend, exacerbated further by inadequate court data, significant delays in bringing cases to court and limited judicial training and specialisation among the judiciary.

Drawing from the research findings, Dr O’Connor proffered a new holistic model of sentencing. The model is child-structured and takes a balanced account of justice and welfare issues by moving away from an increasingly defensive youth justice system and a punitive youth sentencing approach. In doing so, it is hoped to serve both justice and welfare requirements in youth justice in Ireland in compliance with international best practice so that the needs and best interests of the child who sexually offends, public policy, and the interests of victims are accommodated within both the letter and the spirit of the law.
This lecture discussed themes of a sensitive nature.


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Biography - Dr John O’Connor

Dr O’Connor is a judge of the Circuit Court since February 2019. Prior to becoming a Circuit Court Judge, he was a judge of the District Court from 2012, where for nearly six years he was the principal judge in the Children Court in Smithfield.

Dr O’Connor is an Honorary Professor of Law with Nottingham Trent University [NTU] and holds a professional doctorate. He is also a qualified solicitor with the Law Society of Ireland and holder of several degrees, including LLB from University of Galway, LLM from University College Dublin and M.Litt. from Trinity College Dublin.

A frequent lecturer to academic and professional bodies, Dr O’Connor has a particular interest in capacity, mental health and neurodiversity law and practice.


About Annual Martin Tansey Memorial Lecture

The ACJRD marks the contribution Martin Tansey made to Criminal Justice in Ireland and to this association with a Memorial lecture each spring. Information and papers from the lectures which have taken place since the inaugural event in 2008 can be found here.