Last Tuesday in the House of Lords a question for Youth Justice System was raised and there were several responses but sadly only one member of the House may have referred to the appropriate solution and because Lord Ramsbotham was online and his first few words were inaudible we may never know what Bill he was referring to and therefore if indeed that was his answer. As I have written before here and then again here a “Private Members’ Bill (under the Ten Minute Rule)” was introduced by a Conservative MP Rob Butler along with 10 other MPs which included three Labour MPs under the title “Youth Courts and Sentencing Bill”. It had its first reading on 23rd February at 12.38pm and at the beginning of the process Hansard states “Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)” and after Rob Butler had read the text of the Bill the last words on the page were
Question put and agreed to.
That Rob Butler, Sir Robert Neill, Maria Eagle, Jeremy Wright, Edward Timpson, Andrew Selous, Crispin Blunt, Dan Jarvis, Sarah Champion, Danny Kruger and Sally-Ann Hart present the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 260).
Now there is a Parliamentary website that assesses the process of all Bills which appears here and as it shows very clearly, the Bill was not read a second time on the 24th February and indeed it has not been read a second time since the 23rd February to today as the website states that the second reading is “In Progress”. When I raised my disappointment with two of the Labour MPs on twitter earlier in March , Sarah Champion responded as can be seen above. Now to be clear that in the debate on Tuesday in the House of Lords there were a few references, primarily by Baroness Scott (Jane Scott) who is a Government Minister to the latest Government Bill which is entitled The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Now the challenge here is that it does not currently include any age based elements despite her claims to the fact it might and in any case it would take much longer to get through than if the Government agreed to allow the 10 minute Bill to be accepted. Their Bill is much more complex and a great deal more damaging in other elements. Rob Butler did explain this on the 15th March when he spoke about the Government Bill and as part of his comment he stated:
There are welcome changes to the youth justice system here; reducing the use of remand in custody for children is the right thing to do. I am pleased to see changes to the intensive supervision and surveillance programmes, and I support the proposals to make detention and training orders more flexible. The Bill eliminates many anomalies in previous legislation, and I would welcome the Government giving further consideration to one anomaly that I highlighted in my recent ten-minute rule Bill: that children who commit an offence as a child but turn 18 before getting to court are treated as adults at both trial and sentence. The risk of this happening has been exacerbated by delays caused by covid, and those delays vary greatly between different parts of the country, resulting in a postcode lottery that is fundamentally unjust and yet can have lifelong consequences. Although there has not been time to incorporate my proposal into the Bill at this stage, I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor for meeting me to discuss how, with appropriate safeguards, some of its aims might be achieved. I hope that the Government might still be persuaded that this Bill provides such an opportunity. I am confident that that could be achieved without conflicting with other very important proposals in this Bill.
So back to the House of Lords and some very clear comments about why the principles behind the Rob Butler Bill need to be treated as a high priority. The initial question came from Baroness Sater (Amanda Sater) who is a Conservative Peer and the response is from Jane Scott
AS: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to enable children who commit offences to be tried and sentenced according to the youth justice system, and in particular, those who turn 18 before their first court appearance.
JS: My Lords, the courts are working to prioritise trials involving youth defendants, particularly when they involve a child who is about to turn 18. When a child turns 18 after an offence is committed but before they appear in court, they must be tried as an adult. However, guidelines state that in these cases courts should use as a starting point a sentence that would have been given at the time the offence was committed.
AS: My Lords, delays, backlogs and where you live can mean that a defendant who commits an offence under the age of 18 but who does not attend their first court appearance before their 18th birthday is treated differently from those who get to court before they turn 18. Through no fault of their own, those defendants miss out on receiving the valuable specialist youth court provision and sentences, especially referral orders, which can be vital in the rehabilitation and turning around of a young person’s life and which I have witnessed as a former youth magistrate. Will the Government consider reviewing this unfair anomaly?
A bit later in the debate there are comments from Baroness Jones from Moulsecoomb (Jenny Jones) who is a Green Peer along with Baroness Butler-Sloss (Elizabeth Butler-Sloss) and Baron Ramsbotham (David Ramsbotham) who are both Crossbench Peers, all of whom receive responses from Jane Scott.
EB-S: My Lords, are the Government considering raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12? These 10 and 11 year-olds usually come from seriously dysfunctional backgrounds and need help in the care system rather than convictions or findings of guilt.
JS: I have no information that the age will rise from 10 to 12 but that may be debated in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is in the other place and will be coming to this House shortly.
Tragically this comment did not get admitted by Jane Scott and as I wrote two days ago sadly there has been a major loss of Courts and indeed that took place with Labour as well as the coalition and Conservative Governments over the last 10 years.
JJ: My Lords, part of the problem with all the delays and children becoming adults before they go to court is because the Conservative Government massively cut funding to courts. The Minister comes from the Ministry of Justice but this is a clear injustice. What will the Ministry of Justice do about it?
And then the next comment after Jenny Jones came from the sadly inaudible piece from Dave Ramsbotham.
DR: [Inaudible]—the Minister to my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss indicates that the important question of the age of criminal responsibility may be raised in the Bill which is at present in the other place.
JS: I do not think I heard the whole question from the noble Lord, but if it is about the age in law, I have answered that question before. If that is an issue, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is coming from the other place shortly, will be the place to discuss it fully in this House.