Clause 53 - Aims of youth justice system

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:00 am ar 12 Chwefror 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Patsy Calton Patsy Calton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Cheadle 11:00, 12 Chwefror 2002

I shall try to be brief. Others have suggested that a guardian ad litem should be appointed in order to protect the interests of young people. Interestingly, I have a different perspective on the matter from that of youth groups in Northern Ireland, because I have chaired a local authority social services committee, and I was a teacher for the best part of the past 30 years.

The thrust of the Bill is wherever possible to move children into the care system rather than into custody centres. It could be argued that there is not a massive difference between some children in the care system and others in the criminal justice system. That is why we should protect the interests of young people facing custody, to ensure that at least one appropriately legally qualified person will protect their legal interests. As the Bill stands, all those persons and bodies are responsible for the welfare of the child, but no named person takes legal responsibility. In an ideal world, it would be sufficient for those persons and

bodies to take responsibility, but just as a child in the care system requires a guardian ad litem, so too, we believe, does the child taken into custody.

The United Nations convention on the rights of the child makes the point that children's rights require special protection. It states in the pre-amble that

''childhood is entitled to special care and assistance.''

Article 20 states:

''A child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State.''

Some will argue that such protection could be provided simply by appointing a solicitor. I hope that the Government understand that providing a solicitor who has no special training in the protection of children's interests would be a mistake. It would not be in the best interests of the child.

Providing a guardian ad litem in every case of possible custody would be expensive. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire said, if the Government do not spend the money up front, they will have to spend it eventually; and with children the money needs to be invested at an early stage. The education and the social care worlds are beginning to understand that principle. If the Bill does not recognise that children need special care at that stage, we will ultimately have failed to protect the rights of the child—and society will pay the price. What I say is based on my experience as a teacher and my rather more limited experience as a chair of social services.

There is not much more to be said on the matter. The principle will be either accepted or rejected. We may live to see the day, 30 years on, when what I fear will happen. I would like to think that we could deal with the problem in advance.