23 November 2021
Children’s rights in Northern Ireland are being compromised by a failure to implement youth justice review recommendations
That’s the key message after the launch of a new expert led research report, jointly commissioned by four leading third-sector organisations – Children’s Law Centre, Include Youth, NIACRO and VOYPIC – Voice of Young People in Care.
The independent research, titled ‘Tracing the Review: Developments in Youth Justice in Northern Ireland’, was conducted by Dr Siobhan McAlister and Dr Nicola Carr, experts in the field of youth justice in this jurisdiction. It tracks the progress of several key recommendations made a decade ago in the Youth Justice Review and was launched in Parliament Buildings on Tuesday 23rd November at 1pm.
The new report draws particular attention to the lack of progress in relation to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility, a key recommendation from the Youth Justice Review. It also outlines a number of key findings, including the need to ensure compliance with children’s rights and human rights standards.
Paddy Kelly, Director at the Children’s Law Centre said: “In this jurisdiction, we have one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in Europe, and indeed the world. The recommendation to raise the age of criminal responsibility is one of the key elements of the Youth Justice Review ten years ago but it has remained unimplemented. The UNCRC clearly recommends raising the age to 16 and the NI Executive has a duty to comply with UNCRC obligations. We cannot cherry pick children’s rights.
“Failure to raise the age has serious real world impacts on vulnerable children. Rather than addressing the failures that have pushed young people towards the criminal justice system, we are criminalising them. This in turn can have lifelong negative impacts, both on the children affected and the criminal justice system itself.”
Dr Paula Rodgers, Policy Co-Ordinator at Include Youth said: “The overuse of remand and the placement of children into custody remains areas of concern. The recommendations of the Review concerning the development of alternatives to custodial remand have not been brought forward, and such lack of alternatives remain a fundamental weakness in provision.
“Whilst numbers are small the simple fact is one young person held in custody is one too many. A further concern is that care experienced young people are disproportionately represented in these numbers and this is something that needs to change as a matter of urgency.”
Olwen Lyner, Chief Executive of NIACRO said: “Legislation should be brought forward to give effect to all aspects of Recommendation 21 of the Youth Justice Review, with respect to criminal records. This is particularly the case with respect to recommendation 21a of the Review “to ensure diversionary disposals do not attract a criminal record or be subject to employer or more general disclosure”.
“Indeed, the recent judgment in relation to the judicial review on the Rehabilitation of Offenders and the necessary policy consultation that will follow, gives an opportunity for these issues to be dealt with.”
Alicia Toal, Chief Executive at VOYPIC, said: “Whilst overall numbers of children and young people held in custody have declined, we are concerned that children and young people from care continue to be over-represented amongst those on remand and in custody under PACE provisions. Compliance with children’s rights standards would ensure that custody is only used as a measure of last resort. This report highlights the need for urgent action from the Executive, to ensure better outcomes for all children across the region.”