Clause 53 - Aims of youth justice system

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 12 Chwefror 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh 10:30, 12 Chwefror 2002

I thank the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) for moving the amendment on Thursday last, in my unavoidable absence. It was most interesting to read the report, which gives a certain flavour of attitudes.

I will be pretty brief, because the debate has already taken place. My three amendments try to fulfil the obligations of recommendation 169 of the review group, which was that

''a clear statement of the aims of the juvenile justice system''

should be developed, agreed and incorporated in legislation. The clause attempts to do that, but it is

parsimonious and lacks the detail and humanity that one would expect on the issue. In many ways, it has a turn-of-the-century tone about it—and I am not talking about the last century. Although I recognise the validity of what the Minister has said and will say about stating the aims, I ask him to consider the importance of the issue—I know that he has—and to try to reflect its importance by agreeing to the amendments.

In a Bill such as this, it is important that we ensure that the wording reflects the challenges that we face and the world that we live in. It is not adequate simply to state the principles in bare terms, as the Government do. That is deficient, because it does not expand on them as it might. It is also incomplete, as it ignores several elements that the review group felt should be included among the aims. I know that they will be dealt with—somewhat parsimoniously, I suggest—in other parts of the clause.

I have no quarrel with the aim of the prevention of offending and the encouragement of children to take responsibility for their actions, but the provisions should deal with the rehabilitation of the offender, which they do not. Nor do they deal with the duty to regard the best interests of the child as a primary consideration, in accordance with article 3 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. That convention is the most widely adhered to of all international human rights instruments. It is unacceptable for its fundamental provisions to be ignored when the principles of a system of justice intended to deal with children are under consideration. It will be argued that those principles are reflected elsewhere in the Bill—I do not dispute that—and that they are presented in practical terms—I do not dispute that either. However, I believe that the principles have such weight and importance that they should be stated clearly in the clause.

The amendments derive from the views put forward by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in its submission to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Its approach was accepted by all the political parties. It is important for the relationship between the Administration and the Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission and all the other agencies to be such that the more we respect and reflect their views, the stronger the legislation becomes. Their input does not weaken its objectives; it strengthens them. Rather than the negative function that is implied in subsections (1), (2) and (3), the justice system should have the positive function of reintegrating children into society and enabling them to play a constructive part in future. That is crucial.

It will be argued that the amendment is redundant, and that those aims are stated elsewhere. So be it. However, those aims are so important that we should live with the possible redundancy and include a declaration of our intent.