Friday, 13 November 2020

Justice Committee Report ~ Children and Young People in Custody (Part 1)

The Justice Committee has published -

Children and Young People in Custody (Part 1): Entry into the youth justice system

The committee's website explains that the number of children entering the system, as well as those receiving custodial sentences, has reduced considerably in the past decade. But the report notes that the seriousness of the crimes these children have committed has worsened, particularly for violence-against-the-person offences. The raw number of crimes committed remains lower than a decade ago but the proportion of violence-against-the-person offences has increased by ten percentage points compared with other crimes.

At the same time,

the report sets out the complex vulnerabilities many of these children face, including mental health, social exclusion and substance misuse issues. For this reason, the Committee recommended that the courts and custodial authorities place a much greater emphasis on a “whole system approach” involving a range of public agencies such as educational, psychological and social services beyond those of the criminal justice system alone.

The Committee's recommendations include asking the government to review the age of criminal responsibility (currently aged 10) and they recommend that the Ministry of Justice report on the implications of raising the age in England and Wales to 12 and to 14, including the likely effect on reducing the number of children in custody and alternative methods of disposing of serious offences committed by children.  The Guardian 12 November reports a Ministry of Justice spokesperson as saying - "“The Committee said it is not convinced there is a reason to change the age of criminal responsibility – and we have no plans to do so.”

A further interesting recommendation is to introduced direct recruitment of magistrates to the Youth Court. It is said that this would allow those appointed to specialise in the Youth Court from the outset.

The committee expressed concern that children who turn 18 while waiting for proceedings against them to begin are then dealt with and sentenced as adults. "In particular, this is alarming when it happens simply because of delays in bringing cases to court. Defendants may have no control over delays, but may face profoundly different outcomes simply because a birthday has passed. There is significant potential for injustice here, and we believe that proceedings and sentencing should be carried out on the basis of the circumstances prevailing at the time the offence was committed, including the age of the offender."

It is recommended that the Ministry of Justice legislate to ensure that those who turn 18 while waiting for proceedings against them to begin are automatically dealt with in the youth justice system and sentenced as children.  

A further report from the committee is expected in December 2020.

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