Decade of Delay on Key Youth Justice Recommendations

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.

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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.”

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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.”

Tracing the Review: Developments in Youth Justice in Northern Ireland 2011 – 2021

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Systemic Failure on Children’s Rights in Northern Ireland

16 December 2020

A report submitted by the Children’s Law Centre to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child paints a bleak picture in relation to children’s rights in Northern Ireland. The report demonstrates a systemic failure to incorporate the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child within legislation, policy and practice. This has left children’s rights in Northern Ireland far behind internationally recognised standards.

The ‘List of Issues Report’, compiled in partnership with stakeholders in Northern Ireland, seeks to inform questions posed to the UK government and NI Executive ahead of the next examination of the UK Government by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

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Speaking after submitting the report, Children’s Law Centre Director, Paddy Kelly said:

“The NI Executive is failing children and young people in Northern Ireland. There has been a complete failure to make progress on concluding observations and recommendations since the previous examination by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. This has led to systemic failures, with no comprehensive framework to provide strong protections for children’s rights in Northern Ireland.

“The list of delays on key issues is almost endless. The Children and Young People’s Strategy has not been published and it is unclear if this is to be accepted as the delivery mechanism for UNCRC implementation. No efforts have been made to raise the age of criminal responsibility, and corporal punishment in the family remains lawful with no plans to repeal the legal defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’. Homeless children are still not being provided with suitable accommodation and medically fit children with complex needs are not able to leave hospital due to the lack of suitable accommodation in the community. Likewise, children with Special Education Needs continue to suffer due to a long list of operational failures and delays.

“This is simply unacceptable and failure to address these issues is having a devastating impact on the lives of children and young people in Northern Ireland. Things have been made even worse by COVID-19 which has exposed and exacerbated many pre-existing problems. Where we previously saw gaps in the protection of children’s rights, we are now seeing chasms.

“The current situation for children in Northern Ireland is grave and the Children’s Law Centre is seeing this daily in our work. We need to see immediate action to address these problems ahead of examination in 2022.”

NOTES:

  • The Children’s Law Centre is an independent charitable organisation established in September 1997 which works towards a society where all children can participate, are valued, have their rights respected and guaranteed without discrimination and every child can achieve their full potential. The organisation is founded on the principles enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • The Children’s Law Centre operates a dedicated free phone legal advice line for children and young people called CHALKY and provides legal information through an online platform known as ‘REE’ and legal advice through ‘REE Live Chat’ – https://childrenslawcentre.org.uk/clhexpert/
  • The Northern Ireland NGO Stakeholder Report to Inform the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s ‘List of Issues Prior to Reporting’ can be found here, the supporting evidence report can be found here
  • The Northern Ireland NGO Stakeholder Report to Inform the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s ‘List of Issues Prior to Reporting’ has been endorsed by 48 organisations
  • The Children’s Law Centre would particularly like to acknowledge the work of Deena Haydon in drafting the report, the National Children’s Bureau and Include Youth for their support in the compilation of the report and NICCY for their support.
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