Young Offenders

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 17 Mawrth 1997.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Bro Morgannwg 12:00, 17 Mawrth 1997

To ask the Attorney-General what steps he is taking to reduce delays in dealing with young offenders. [18851]

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Attorney General (Law Officers)

The Crown Prosecution Service has well-established teams of specialist prosecutors to handle youth cases, which are working closely with the other agencies to develop methods of speeding up those cases. Those include the introduction of pilot schemes for lawyers in police stations, which enable police officers to obtain immediate advice on the charging of youth offenders.

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Bro Morgannwg

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take on board the fact that there is widespread concern in the Vale of Glamorgan about young offenders who commit fresh offences while waiting to be dealt with by the courts? Those offenders also tend to forget why they are in court if there is any significant delay. Does he agree that the CPS and all the other agencies involved in the criminal justice system have an important role to play in avoiding unnecessary adjournments and speeding up justice?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Attorney General (Law Officers)

My hon. Friend has great practical knowledge of both prosecution and defence and he will know from that how important it is to bring offenders promptly before the courts before they continue a spree of offending. The CPS, the Home Office and others are working together closely to tackle the issue.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Does the Attorney-General agree that it is not just the problem of delay that is creating difficulties with youth crime, but the system itself? Does he agree that there is scope for considering, for example, the introduction of an equivalent to the Scottish children's panel system, which has proved much more effective than youth courts in preventing young people from committing additional crimes? Does he not think that we should now take a root-and-branch look at the way in which youth crime is dealt with and not merely tinker with issues such as delay?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Attorney General (Law Officers)

I agree to the extent that there are a number of ways in which one can approach youth crime. The police and the CPS are already making strides with interesting initiatives, one of which I saw last Thursday in Aylesbury. There is a broad spectrum of possibilities and the problem can be tackled in many effective ways, not only through the courts.

s Mr. Ian Bruce:

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Home Office and his Department are working vigorously to try to speed up the prosecution of young offenders, but that we are being delayed by Opposition Members, who talk tough on crime and promptly delay the passage of some of our crime laws? Is it not absolutely clear that the only way in which we will tackle the problem properly is to have another five years of Conservative government?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Attorney General (Law Officers)

My hon. Friend puts his finger on the curious and muddled policy of the Opposition, which will be tested carefully over the next six weeks and about which they can think further in opposition over the next five years, after which they may come up with something better. My hon. Friend and I realise that there is a small hard core of young offenders who need to be dealt with rapidly and effectively and on whom the Government are targeting their efforts.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Shadow Attorney General

Will the Attorney-General take account of the fact that while youth crime has risen by 35 per cent. in the past decade, the number of young offenders dealt with by the courts has fallen by the same proportion? Reducing delay is important, especially for persistent young offenders, but it is only part of the problem. What consideration has he given to the criticism of youth justice by the Audit Commission and others? Does he not consider it extraordinary that there were no proposals to reform youth courts in the recent Government consultative paper? What are his views, given his remit and drawing on his experience, on responsibility for the Crown Prosecution Service?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Attorney General (Law Officers)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not wholly correct. Several proposals put forward recently by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary have particular application to youth courts, as well as to courts generally. However, there are also specialist aspects that deserve further attention, which they will receive. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must remember that the problem with youth crime is the comparatively small number of multiple offenders—also a symptom of adult crime—who must be brought rapidly before the courts and, if necessary, put out of circulation with swift custodial penalties.