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 Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 5:00, 7 Chwefror 2002

I listened with care to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and I disagree with him, not on the intention behind his proposals regarding children but because this part of the Bill on youth justice must have regard to the whole community, the Government's aims to improve justice meted out to children and the need for children to face up to their responsibilities.

The Government's overall objectives are welcomed, and the Opposition support them. We have concerns on some matters of detail: the strength of reparation orders, the strength of the community restorative orders and the way in which the conferences are to take place. However, the legislation is wholly consistent with all the conventions referred to by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire.

This debate does not take place in isolation. We are all aware of the percentage of crime that is committed by children. The legislation will include 17-year-olds in the category of youth justice. A significant percentage of criminal behaviour is carried out by those under 18. Ultimately, we are debating the protection of the public. In drafting subsection (1), the Government and the review group have been criticised by human rights bodies, such as the Children's Law Centre. That body wants to see an amendment to the clause. It states:

The principal aim of the Youth Justice System is to prevent offending by children, having taken into account the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration.

I part company with the organisation on that point. The paramount consideration is legitimately the protection of the public.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire is asking us to incorporate his judgment. When he referred to imprisoning children or putting them into custody, he implied that that would lead to further problems down the line, because there would be a lack of public protection when children were released from schools of crime to cause more trouble. It is a matter of judgment whether custody will be the right solution. The first consideration must be protecting the public. In my county of Surrey, the chief constable arrested five repeat burglars in Guildford. They would be considered youth offenders under this Bill because they were all younger than 18. There was a 25 per cent. drop in the crime rate in Guildford by putting those individuals into custody.