Clause 53

Part of Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 1:30 pm ar 22 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 1:30, 22 Tachwedd 2007

I want to echo some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate. All of us can see merit in pre-court disposals and diversion away from prosecution—I do not think that there is any doubt about that—but there is also concern about how that works in practice, and whether the same considerations are given when a conditional caution is applied, and the degree to which it simply removes a level of responsibility from the prosecutorial and penal systems in dealing effectively with offenders.

I would like to raise a separate issue, and I am genuinely interested in the Minster’s response. Why were the ages of 16 and 17 chosen as being appropriate for the conditional caution, and not those who are under-18 and younger than 16? On the face of it, the measure introduces a new anomaly, and had I tabled an amendment at an earlier stage in the proceedings, it might not have been starred and it might have been selected for debate at a subsequent sitting, where we might have explored the matter more fully.

The proposal creates a potential new anomaly in that a 15-year-old with an identical series of circumstances to a 16-year-old would not be eligible for a youth conditional caution and therefore a prosecution would be required to achieve the same objective. The arguments of diversion from prosecution that apply to a 16-year-old would not apply to a 15-year-old. It is not inconceivable, in fact it is almost certain that there will be circumstances in which several youths are involved in an unlawful activity and they will have to have different disposals according to which side of their 16th birthday they are; one will lead to a 15-year-old appearing in court and the other will result in a 16-year-old being given a youth conditional caution.

I am interested to know why the Government have taken the view that this should apply only to 16 and 17-year-olds. If the answer is that it is considered that only a 16 to 17-year-old would have sufficient maturity to understand a youth conditional caution, that raises a different question, about the fact that many 16-year-olds might not have that maturity, and about whether the disposal is effective and appropriate in that case. Is it perhaps an adult disposal, being used for young people; and is that appropriate? What is the reason for the cut-off point at 16? What are the arguments for it? Will the Minister explain why the Government have taken the view that they have on the magical element of the 16th birthday, which makes the disposal appropriate then, but not for a younger child?