Clause 53 - Aims of youth justice system

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:15 pm ar 7 Chwefror 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Ceidwadwyr, Harborough 5:15, 7 Chwefror 2002

I am somewhat concerned by the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. It would not advance the youth justice system in Northern Ireland one jot. Equally, I am not hugely convinced that subsections (1), (2) and (3) help.

I am interested that the Government are prepared to place in the Bill a clause headed:

Aims of youth justice system.

When the Access to Justice Act 1999 was in Committee, there was a considerable dispute between the Government and me. The then Parliamentary Secretary in the Lord Chancellor's Department, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), who is now Secretary of State for Defence, had carriage of the Access to Justice Bill. Lord Ackner and others sought to put an aims clause into that Bill and the right hon. Member for Ashfield argued with great vehemence that the inclusion of an aims clause would be dematerialist and, at best, unhelpful. I do not know why we should have an aims of youth justice system clause in this Bill. To my mind it is unhelpful.

The use of the expression:

The principal aim of the youth justice system

suggests that there are other aims that are of lesser value. When one compares subsection (1) with subsection (3), the value of subsection (1) is wholly undermined. If the principal aim of the youth justice system is to protect the public by, as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said, preventing offending by children, one bangs them up. The only way in which to prevent the public from being interfered with by offending children is to keep them off the streets.

That is, of course, not what the Government mean. They mean that it would be nice for the public to know that they are concerned that youth crime is a problem, but having set out that lofty aim they will not implement the meaning of subsection (1). Subsection (3) states that those in charge of the youth justice system must exercise their functions

with a view (in particular) to furthering their personal, social and educational development.

It is possible for children to be placed in custody, and while they are in custody to have their personal, social and educational development looked after.

That is understandable in theory, but I have a suspicion that subsections (1), (2) and (3) are no more than an early-day motion. They are of little legislative value, and they are of little value to those who sit in judgment or who work in the youth justice system in Northern Ireland. I have no idea whether other members of the Committee are magistrates, and I

may be the only member who, as a judge, has sent someone to prison. I assure the Committee that every magistrate in a youth court and every judge who has to deal with people under the age of 18 will have in mind, if not the text of the various conventions and so on to which the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire referred, the aspirations of subsections (1), (2) and (3). However, they would not want to be hobbled and would not be assisted by the need to reach a conclusion that fits the exact form of the clause by having the clause placed in front of them between the child in question and the decision that they must eventually take in the interests of justice.

The only subsections in clause 53 of any value to a court and those who come before the youth justice system are subsections (4), (5) and (6), which define what we shall be dealing with in later clauses in part 4. Subsections (1), (2) and (3) are interesting to read and inoffensive in the terms in which they are expressed, but are of no utility whatever to the practical work of dealing with young offenders in courts. They will not be removed because I believe that it would be better if they were, but I ask Minister to explain why the Government said one thing in 1999 and are saying something else in 2002, and why the first three subsections should be in the Bill.