Children’s campaigners have expressed disappointment at the absence of a youth justice bill in the Queen’s Speech, despite earlier promises to tackle the issue of children in trouble with the law.
In her speech to the House of Commons this week, the Queen promised “new powers” to protect the public from antisocial behaviour. The new criminal justice bill would also introduce a “generic community sentence” for young offenders.
However, she failed to bring forward comprehensive youth justice legislation, despite promising publication of a draft bill “to tackle juvenile crime through more effective rehabilitation and sentencing” as far back as 2004.
Expressing concerns over the additional enforcement powers to be included in the criminal justice bill – and those outlined in the Home Office’s new consultation paper on tackling antisocial behaviour – the Children Society warned that a punitive approach would only compound problems rather than address them.
“Rebalancing the justice system in favour of victims must also mean protecting victims of a failing system,” a spokesperson for the charity said. “We want to see an increase in the range of alternatives to custody and a guarantee that children’s welfare and safeguarding is at the heart of the system.”
It is not yet clear how a generic community sentence for young offenders would work, but the idea appears to take forward the proposal in the Home Office’s five year strategy published in February to “replace the nine existing community sentences with a single Youth Rehabilitation Order”. The strategy states that such an order would have a menu of interventions, including reparation to victims, treatment for mental health problems and drug misuse, supervision and curfew.
The Home Office consultation paper, published the day before the Queen’s Speech, was billed as a response to police and local authority requests to increase the range of options for those at the frontline to prevent and tackle antisocial behaviour. Proposals include a deferred penalty notice for disorder which could be issued on the condition an offender signed an acceptable behaviour contract agreeing to keep out of trouble.
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