Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Hylton: Following what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, perhaps I may suggest that the police could well be represented by one of their civilian employees rather than by a police constable.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: This is a very interesting discussion. It is opening our eyes. Gradually we are beginning to see how the system is likely to work. That is extremely helpful. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, opened my eyes a good deal.

When the type of people who will be on the panel is decided, it must be borne in mind that what they decide in relation to the young person will very much affect families, schools, youth organisations and voluntary organisations. Families will face problems as a result of the contract. There will be difficult relationships if young people have to stay at home in the evenings. It will not be easy for the families of some young people.

18 Jan 1999 : Column 425

The members of the panel must have the respect of the community and the people involved. That means that they must be seen to be people who know what they are talking about. That does not mean that they have to be magistrates. If there is a teacher there, or a representative of a reputable voluntary organisation which is respected in the community, and so on, they must be seen to understand what they are doing. That is extremely important. The people on the panel may be rather good, but if they are not recognised by the community as such, they will not find it very easy. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind.

Viscount Brentford: I am not happy with these two amendments, for two reasons. First, there needs to be more flexibility about who should be on the panel without carving out too many spaces in advance. As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has said, they must all be experts on young people and young people's needs. A magistrate will not necessarily be the best person for that purpose. I would prefer the statute to be much more flexible, without defining the membership beyond what is already provided.

My second concern about these amendments relates to their impact on a young person. This is particularly true of a policeman. Sadly, many of our young people do not look favourably on the police. I am not sure that it will necessarily create the right atmosphere to have a police officer there. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has suggested an alternative but, from the point of view of flexibility, I would prefer not to see that written into this statute either.

The demarcation between the youth panel and the court is such that the involvement of a magistrate will not necessarily be helpful from the point of view of the restorative, rehabilitation and behaviour-changing aspects required of a young person. I would prefer to leave the membership of the panel flexible.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Viscount's observation is of critical importance. It is important to bear in mind that the people who serve on these panels are not there to represent anything apart from their commitment to the rehabilitation of the offender. They are not there as delegates, as it were. Certainly a civilian employed by the police could be there, but not to represent the police service. A police officer could be there, or a magistrate, but not to represent the police service or the magistracy.

It seems to me that it is not possible to dispute the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. What one wants to do is to have a formal fast-track procedure of charge and attendance at the first available court. That is the formalised criminal justice system. Thereafter, we have to be a good deal more imaginative and reflective about how we deal with individual young offenders, who will be extremely unhappy and distressed people whatever their outward show of bravado may be.

It is true that in the White Paper we suggested that the youth panel would consist of a mix of practitioners: a magistrate--if possible one of the magistrates

18 Jan 1999 : Column 426

responsible for the referral--and perhaps a police officer. We put that out to consultation. It was genuine consultation. The inclusion of magistrates generated the most comment, both from individual magistrates and youth benches. The majority of respondents were wholly opposed to the idea. After all, magistrates are volunteers. One cannot direct them always to give up even more of their private time to serve on panels. There was a good deal of objection to that. The Association of Chief Police Officers also expressed reservations about the involvement of police officers. It is quite right to say that it was in the White Paper as a proposal but we decided against it, having had informed consultation.

The question of the approach of Justice was raised. I do not believe that there is any difficulty in the ECHR context, which is why I placed on the Bill my certificate about convention compliance, because this is not a court. As far as I am aware, it has never been suggested that if a young person were on probation he or she would have to be legally represented in discussing the precise terms of the supervision or probation order with the supervising probation officer. What one wants to avoid is over-legalism. Legal representation will be available at the court but not at the panel. It is not that kind of occasion. One does not want an adversarial system in front of the panel; one wants a co-operative working together between the members of the panel, who are there for their personal qualities as well as their expertise, and the parents and the young people concerned. I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, has got it right. We need to have a certain amount of flexibility in these panels.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, asked what criteria might be denominated by the Secretary of State. Where a young girl is sent to the panel, it may be that there should be a minimum requirement for at least one or a number of women on the panel. If there is an offender under 16, it may be that there should be someone on the panel with a particular knowledge of education in the locality. It may be that there should be a minimum requirement about local knowledge and residence. Those are the kind of points that the Secretary of State might wish to consider. It seems to me that, these days, the questions of feminine representation on the panel or ethnic minority representation on the panel might be the kind of questions that the Secretary of State would wish to consider. I do stress--I think that the experience of the White Paper and what followed the consultation demonstrates this--that we want to get the best possible outcome and not be shackled by dogma.

I do not think that there is any contravention of the ECHR in having a panel without legal representation. In fact the very last thing one wants with a panel is legal representation and the adversarial system. I can speak plainly, being retired from that line of work.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I realise that the White Paper was for consultation. In that sense it was not perhaps a White Paper, but, in the jargon, a slightly greener document. Nevertheless, I thought it right to draw attention to the departure from the White Paper which the magistrates suggested.

18 Jan 1999 : Column 427

I am not entirely persuaded by the noble Lord's arguments but I shall not press the matter today. With regard to the police, I realise that some of these young people will see the police in a very poor light. Seeing them in the context of arriving at the contract and so on might help young offenders to see the police in a more accurate light. With regard to knowledge, the police force in Avon and Somerset, where I live, has done a great deal with young offenders. There is an excellent scheme of motor car repair for those involved in car crime which has proved extremely effective and has changed the attitude of the young people concerned towards the police.

The Minister teased us several times with "may be". He said that this "may be" in the guidance and that "may be" in the guidance. He led us on a little. Is there any chance that we might see before the Report stage a draft of the regulations which the Secretary of State proposes in this respect? That would be most helpful to us and might avoid our having to have similar discussions at later stages of the Bill. Is there any likelihood of that?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I shall certainly bear that in mind and will do my best. I cannot give any guarantee as I am not sure when the Report stage is. However, even if the regulations are not available, I hope to be able to give your Lordships a little more detail.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: That would be most helpful. In the light of what the Minister said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.15 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 31:


Page 6, line 9, after ("member") insert (", who shall not be the supervisor of the young person,").

The noble Earl said: Amendment No. 64 is grouped with Amendment No. 31. Both amendments have the purpose of ensuring that the member of the youth offending team who will supervise the young offender during the contract period is not also the member of the youth offending team who is to be on the youth offender panel. I believe that it would be an offence at least against natural justice to have the same person reporting to the youth offender panel and carrying out its instructions and also making the panel's decision. We should not be considering a situation where a youth offender team worker will make a report to the panel about progress, or a lack of it, and then say, "Now that we have heard this shocking report, we must...." I appreciate that this restriction will bring an additional person into the process, but I see no harm in having a fourth adult taking a benevolent interest in the young person's life. Furthermore, any criticism that the panel might not be independent is removed by detaching the supervisor from the panel.

18 Jan 1999 : Column 428

These amendments create a useful role for the senior members of the youth offender team and enable them to monitor almost all the youth offender panels and contracts as well as the performance of their junior colleagues as supervisors. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page