Clause 53

Part of Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 1:15 pm ar 22 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Shadow Minister (Justice) 1:15, 22 Tachwedd 2007

I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. O’Hara. I refer to the principle behind the extension of conditional cautioning to 16 and 17-year-olds, while understanding the logical distinction from what is in place for 18-year-olds. No doubt we want to deal with particular circumstances concerning young people and whether it is appropriate for the regime that is in place for adults to apply to them.

Before we move to schedule 11, I want to consider alternative ways in which to deal with the process of youth conditional cautions. What evidence does the generic Minister have for the supposed success of  conditional cautioning? Is there real evidence to justify its extension? It is often tempting to see what happens at the adult court and say, “Well, what is good for the adults should be good for the youths.” I should like to see on an evidence base whether conditional cautioning has worked. Obviously, “Alternatives to prosecution”, the clause heading, is the point of conditional cautioning. No doubt all members of the Committee are united in wanting alternatives to prosecution in appropriate cases and to divert young offenders away from the criminal justice system.

I am concerned whether alternatives to prosecution under the clause are, in fact, an alternative to justice. The worry that is borne out by practice in many ways is whether justice is not properly delivered in those many cases that are being extended by the Government in respect of pre-court disposals and if that is seen in the realms of conditional cautioning or fixed penalty notices. The trend of particular concern to the Magistrates Association and practitioners is that the appropriateness of such penalties should not be done down and dealt with before matters reach court.

No doubt the Government’s mantra is to bring more people to justice and they are keen to ensure that targets are fulfilled and that disposals happen. That might be a fast track to dispose of different offences, albeit low-level offences, but is it a short cut that diverts away from justice? I invite the Minister to explain the principles behind conditional cautioning and to say whether it is appropriate to extend it to the arena of 17 and 18-year-olds.

More often than not conditional cautioning comes within the province of the custody officer, albeit it with reference to the Crown Prosecution Service, to decide on the appropriateness of conditional cautioning. However, in practice, it is very much at the behest and call of the custody officer and the police to decide within a range of areas how they wish to impose certain conditions. I want to know whether the conditions that are attached are always appropriate to the particular penalty and offender.

There is also a concern about resources. It is one thing to have a regime of conditional cautioning and to extend it to 16 and 17-year-olds, but whether the resources will be in place properly to apply those conditions is another matter. No doubt, we will talk about that and concur to some extent when looking at areas of rehabilitation and restoration programmes. The argument that will be made by the Minister of State to justify conditional cautioning and the rationale behind it—to divert young offenders from the criminal justice system and involve them in an early intervention in restorative and rehabilitative programmes—might hold little weight if the funding and resources to go hand in hand with such a proposal are not provided. In practice, one is left with conditions being tacked to cautions, which have little to do with any real rehabilitation or restoration, but which seek to circumvent the young offender’s liberty in certain areas. I ask the Minister to confirm the exact principle and rationale behind clause 53, and to tell the Committee about the evidence that justifies extending the practice to 16 and 17-year-olds, and whether the required resources are available.