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Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 91:

Page 25, line 3, after ("(a)") insert (", (b)").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to Amendment No. 91. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

19 Mar 1998 : Column 895

The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 92:

Page 25, line 13, at end insert ("and
( ) themselves to commission research on the introduction into the youth justice system of childrens' panels to replicate for England and Wales the relevant provisions of Part III of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, Amendment No. 92 has the purpose of bringing the principles of the children's panel system into the new youth justice system. I am pleased to have the opportunity to bring the much-admired but never copied Scottish children's panel into a head-to-head debate with the proposed youth justice system.

The children's hearings are the product of the Kilbrandon Report and form Part III of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. As a social work student in 1968 I recall a briefing on the Bill by the senior civil servant adviser for that part of the Bill.

I have attended both the juvenile court in England and children's hearings with social work clients and their families, often collecting them to ensure their attendance and so preventing an adjournment. The children's hearings can be convened within a day of an offence being committed. I believe that that is a "fast-track" procedure.

At the children's hearing the family, the three panel members, the reporter and the social worker sit at a table together and do not leave it until a decision is reached. There are no adjournments while the Bench sorts out its decision. At the beginning of the hearing the child and the parents are asked if they accept the grounds of referral. The reporter to the children's panel will have received a report that the child is either in need of statutory measures of care or that an offence has been committed. If the family accepts the grounds of referral, the hearing proceeds to deal with the child's future. If the family does not accept the grounds of referral, the hearing is adjourned and the family assents to the sheriff in chambers for an approved hearing.

The case in chambers is led by the reporter and, once the sheriff has determined that there is a case to answer, the family is sent back to the reconvened children's hearing. If the sheriff finds the case not proved, then that is an end of it. The same panel members will see the case through to the eventual discharge and any supervision requirement made. The proceedings are as informal as possible and, though obviously a formal event, are more likely to allow the family to participate than in a formal court setting. The single table, the equal chairs and the small room are conducive to achieving the philosophical aim of doing the best thing for the welfare of the child.

I recall appearing with families in the English juvenile court. The setting was that of any other court room. Though the magistrates were specially selected, they still sat "up there" on the bench. If we were lucky, we would be called forward with the family to stand below the bench and speak at reasonable proximity to the magistrates. Otherwise, the family had to discuss the issues across the open formal court. I accept that that

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description came from my personal experience in the 1970s, but I wonder whether it has changed much since then.

The amendment would require the youth justice board to establish a judicial procedure similar to a children's hearing. This would lead to a less formal and more future oriented process in which the child and the family would have a greater and more meaningful part. The rapid response of the initial hearing, being within a very short space of time, has considerable merit. The treatment plans can be implemented very speedily except where the grounds of referral are not accepted. In my experience, the grounds of referral are usually accepted. This means that there is not a requirement to prepare for prosecution beyond the receipt of evidence. It is here that the fast track is achieved; that is, by not having to go through due process unless insisted upon. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, this amendment would give the youth justice board the function of commissioning research on the introduction into the youth justice system in England and Wales of the system of the children's panel which operates in Scotland. We are keen to look at and learn from the effectiveness of the Scottish children's hearings system. Research commissioned by the Scottish Office is expected to be completed later this year. This research includes a study into decision-making in the children's hearings system, and a three-year longitudinal study examining outcomes for a cohort of children referred to reporters, who have been described by the noble Earl, in 1995.

The Scottish system has a number of positive features. In particular, that system appears to benefit from a clear separation of decisions about guilt from decisions on disposal. An equally important feature of the Scottish system, however, is that it operates entirely outside the criminal justice system. It also considers care and protection issues as well as cases which involve offending. It cannot therefore simply be replicated within the framework of the criminal youth court system in England and Wales.

The Government's plans for reforming the youth court are designed to ensure that its structure and procedures are clearly directed at changing offending behaviour. In particular, our longer term proposals for reform are designed to provide a new opportunity for those appearing before the younth court for the first time to be dealt with following conviction by a new youth panel. The panel would be responsible for agreeing with the young person a "contract" which would be enforced by the youth court. The contract would ensure that the young person made amends to the victim or the community at large and would tackle the causes of their offending behaviour.

We believe that the reforms we have proposed will help to shape a more effective youth justice system for England and Wales for the next century. Our approach combines the principles of restorative justice--of restoration, reintegration and responsibility--with more

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traditional punitive measures, which must be available to the courts in order to protect the public. The result should be a more streamlined and effective system, with a clearer focus on preventing offending.

The terms of this amendment have caused us to reflect on the scope of the youth justice board's functions under subsection (5)(f), (g) and (h) of Clause 32. As currently drafted, these enable the board to identify and promote good practice in the operation of the youth justice system and the provision of youth justice services; to make grants to local authorities and other bodies to develop, or commission research into, good practice in working with young offenders; and itself to commission such research.

We have concluded that these functions need to be broadened so that the youth justice board is able to identify and promote, and make grants and commission research in respect of, good practice both in the operation of the youth justice system and the provision of youth justice services and in relation to work to prevent offending by children and young people. This would enable the board to commission research of the type proposed by the noble Earl.

The Government intend to bring forward amendments to this effect at Third Reading. I hope that, in the light of what I have said, the noble Earl will not press his amendment.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, it is not often that I receive an answer like that, or should I say so favourable an answer as that. I am particularly grateful for the favourable description of the children's panel system with its fast track, informality and participation which are considerable features of it. From 1968 until now is so many years that I hope we do not have to wait quite so long to decide whether or not we think that the youth justice system was working well.

The noble and learned Lord has said that he hopes to bring forward other amendments. I am grateful for that and willing, therefore, to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 93:

Page 25, line 26, after ("(5)(a)") insert (", (b)").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 94:

Page 25, line 37, leave out ("established under section 3 of the Police Act 1996").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 33 [Supplementary provisions]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 95 and 96:

Page 25, line 41, at end insert ("and this section").
Page 26, line 2, at end insert--
(""police authority" has the meaning given by section 101(1) of the Police Act 1996:").

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The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to these Amendments. I beg to move them en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 40 [Powers of magistrates' courts exercisable by single justice etc.]:

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