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Alliance for Youth Court Reform

The Michael Sieff Foundation is continuing to work to bring about change in the youth justice system, with financial support from the Nuffield Foundation.

The Foundation has established an Alliance for Youth Court Reform under the chairmanship of Lord Carlile, which is a group of like-minded organisations, who seek to put pressure on the Government to implement recommendations in the full Carlile Inquiry Report here and the Charlie Taylor Report here.

The Terms of Reference are:

  • To identify and agree areas for approved practice and statutory change and set an ongoing agenda
  • To draft proposals to be submitted to Government and any relevant Judicial Group
  • To draft Parliamentary Questions and consider debates in both Houses.

The Prisons and Courts Bill 2017 provides an opportunity to introduce relevant legislation but the draft Bill as laid does not do so.

The decision to hold a General Election on 8 June 2017 has ended this Bill and the Bill Committee has finished its business. The main part of the Bill is of great importance to necessary reforms of the prison service and the courts, so we anticipate that it will be brought back, subject of course to political developments in the meanwhile. That part relating to youth courts is still open to discussion.

We cannot understand why this Bill does not include some measures that set out an intention by the Government to improve how children and young people are dealt with in courts and respond to the series of critical reports they have received. The Alliance has submitted evidence here to the Ministry of Justice and the Bill Scrutiny Committee.

You will see that it lists those organisations which have fully subscribed to the evidence. We have also had support from the Magistrates’ Association and the National Police Chiefs’ Council but their terms of reference do not permit them to be full members of the Alliance.

Not all members of the Alliance agree on the use of videolinks in the Youth Court but all are at least agreed that they should not be used for trials and that it would be undesirable to use them as a norm or as the Bill contemplates without appropriate safeguards because it would run counter to the important principle of engaging a young defendant in the court process.

The five areas with which the Michael Sieff Foundation is most concerned:

  1. Pre court diversion
  2. Court venue and procedures
  3. Problem solving approaches
  4. Criminal Records
  5. And (though not for statutory change) Youth Court Lawyer qualifications

In relation to problem solving approaches in the Youth Court the Centre for Justice Innovation is being funded by the Nuffield Foundation to research feasibility projects.

In relation to criminal records the Standing Committee on Youth Justice is taking the initiative and we are supportive of their efforts.

In relation to Youth Court Lawyer qualifications the Bar Standards Board is taking the initiative and we are supportive of their efforts.

We set out below some specific recommendations for inclusion in the Bill:

  • A new power giving a youth court authority to defer a decision;
  • A new power giving a youth court specific authority to refer a decision to prosecute back to the Crown Prosecution Service and / or the Police;
  • A new power giving the youth court authority to make an order comparable to section 37 of the Children Act 1989;
  • Tightening up procedures to ensure that all save murder cases and those of a similar exceptional nature are dealt with in the youth court;
  • Enabling reference to the concept of problem solving in the youth court.

We will press for removal of clause 30 and Schedule 3, clauses 32 and 33 and Schedules 4 and 5, in so far as they relate to young defendants as separate provisions would be appropriate as necessary.

If you want to know more please contact the Secretary at: richard@michaelsieff-foundation.org.uk

April 2017