Clause 53 - Aims of youth justice system

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:00 pm ar 7 Chwefror 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Sir Drefaldwyn 5:00, 7 Chwefror 2002

In order to achieve the clarity that the Minister, reasonably, calls for, I might—I did not want to do this—have to cite specific elements of the documents as we reach the amendments to which they relate, in order to illustrate the deficiencies in the Bill. I shall alter my strategy dramatically and talk just about the amendments that we are considering. I have covered the parts of the documents that will allow me to do that. The Minister looks a little edgy, perhaps fearing that I shall try to pull apart this entire section of the Bill. No one questions the Government's desire to achieve the result that I advocate. I return to the matter of balance, and shall move swiftly to discuss the specific import of amendment No. 278.

The difference between the amendment and the provision in the clause relates to the phrase

the child's reintegration and the child assuming a constructive role in society.

Hon. Members can read the amendments for themselves, but if the Bill is to do justice to the principles that I have already read out and to the Minister's intent in this area, it needs to do more than baldly suggest that the prime objective is to protect the public.

When the focus is on crime prevention, we often store up problems for the future by curing the symptoms rather than the cause. Clause 53 sets out the principles of part 4, and we want the statement of principle to include the codes that I have described. For that reason, it is necessary to consider amendment No. 278 in the context of amendment No. 284, which states:

All persons with responsibility for the youth justice system shall have regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

That is the document from which I have quoted extensively.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight made a perfectly reasonable point about amendment No. 223. It is my judgment that amendments Nos. 278 and 284 would provide a more elegant and robust solution to the challenge that we set ourselves in amendment No. 223. In addition, amendment No. 277 would change the word ''welfare'' to the words ''best interests'', which is more faithful to the spirit of the principles that I have proposed.

Considering the package of amendments as a whole, we are asking the Government to rebalance the intention of the principles in clause 53, which relate to the whole of part 4, so that they include rehabilitation rather than just prevention. I have examined this part of the Bill in great detail, so perhaps I can predict the Minister's response. He may feel that my concerns are adequately covered in other clauses. I am not intending to be confrontational; I am just concerned about an omission that might, in time, have a salient effect on the emphasis of the justice system towards young people in Northern Ireland.

The Government have shown genuine concern for human rights. They have been proactive in the international forum, and have tried to embody many

worthy conventions in British law. It seems a shame not to apply that same rigour to this part of the Bill when it would be relatively easy to do so. I intend to press amendment No. 278 to a vote if the Minister's reply does not fulfil my strategic intent and that of my hon. Friends. But if he can give an assurance that he will revisit the issue, with a view to making an express commitment to incorporate the principles of the UN convention on the rights of the child, I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment.