Children in custody
CRAE has long advocated for a child-focused justice system that protects children’s rights (as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) and we contributed to Charlie Taylor’s independent review of the youth justice system. In December 2016, his final report was published at the same time as the Government response.
The Taylor report sets out some welcome principles, particularly that society and government need to ‘see the child first and offender second’, that ‘it is right that children who break the law are dealt with differently to adults’ and that the justice system should be reserved for serious and persistent offending, and not be used to redress childhood mistakes. CRAE agrees that some behaviour and misconduct is better dealt with outside the criminal justice system, and that children who offend should always be dealt with at the ‘lowest possible level’ of the system. Likewise, we strongly support his aspirations for early intervention, and his vision for ‘an integrated, seamless and coordinated response’ to children who offend and the transformation of the system from ‘justice with some welfare, to a welfare system with justice.’
The Government has said the Taylor report presents a ‘compelling case for change’ and that they will be ‘implementing his key recommendations’. It explains that it will provide ‘discipline, purpose, supervision, and someone who cares’ to help children in the justice system build a better life. The Secretary of State for Justice committed the Government to building two new “secure schools” to ‘put education at the heart of youth custody’.
However, the Government has yet to state its support for the principles outlined above, which are fundamental to Taylor’s vision for reform. While the Government says it is ‘determined to improve standards in youth justice’, their current proposals will only affect custody, not the wider system. Disappointingly, much of the Government’s response commits to consult or discuss issues with interested parties rather than setting out the concrete plans.
CRAE will be working closely with NGO partners and other stakeholders to ensure that the principles and recommendations of the Taylor report are turned into action. In particular, following the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s 2016 recommendations to the UK, we will continue to advocate for the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) to be raised. This is currently ten years old in England and Wales, which contravenes children’s rights, is out of sync with other countries (including within the UK following the Scottish Government’s December 2016 announcement that it would raise the MACR to 12 years old) and is inconsistent with evidence on child development.