Children and young people

Part of Prisons and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:15 pm ar 18 Ebrill 2017.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General 5:15, 18 Ebrill 2017

We oppose clause 30. As the Minister has indicated, we have already discussed children being involved in written proceedings when we discussed amendment 95 to clause 23 a moment or two ago. I am grateful for some of the safeguards the Minister has set out, but for the Opposition they remain insufficient. I indicated in our discussion about amendment 95 concerns about the awareness of parents and guardians, the likeliness of children entering guilty pleas, peer pressure and, most fundamentally, children being able to understand proceedings.

I want to deal specifically with the Taylor and Carlile reviews, with which the Minister will be familiar. The Taylor review, which was commissioned in 2015, looked at the youth justice system and was published in December last year alongside the Government’s response, which included a commitment to implement the spirit of the review. The Taylor review was highly critical of the court system, which it found was

“not set up to ensure the full participation of children in criminal proceedings.”

It should trouble the Committee that Taylor found that court procedures and outcomes are frequently not understood by children. He stated:

“On many occasions children leave the court confused by the outcome and need to have their sentence explained to them by a YOT”— youth offending team—

“worker… Too often children are the passive recipients of justice and do not understand the process to which they have been subjected.”

In addition, he found that the youth justice system

“has a statutory aim to prevent offending, but the criminal courts are not equipped to identify and tackle the issues that contribute to and prolong youth offending… Magistrates frequently report that they impose a sentence without having a real understanding of the needs of the child, and they rarely know whether it has been effective.”

The phrase “frequently report” is important; it is not simply a problem that a minority worry about, but a frequent problem.

Taylor recommended the introduction of a new system of children’s panels to sentence children. Those panels would have greater powers to identify and tackle the causes of offending, and panel members would oversee a child’s progress. In 2014 a major review of the children’s court system, chaired by the noble Lord Carlile, made similar findings—particularly that children were not engaged in proceedings—and advocated a problem-solving approach.

The Opposition’s concern is that the Bill does nothing to rectify the very serious problems that both Taylor and Carlile identified. We worry that those problems of engagement, participation, understanding and comprehension will be made worse by introducing proceedings in writing in this way. Our position is therefore that clause 30 should not stand part of the Bill and should be deleted altogether.