The Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ) has called for reforms in how Scotland responds to children and young people who come into conflict with the law, or who are risk of doing so, in its response to the Children’s Care and Justice Bill consultation.
This consultation by the Scottish Government (which ran from April to June 2022) covered potential legislative reforms to promote and advance the rights of children in the care and justice systems and people who have been harmed.
Areas of focus in CYCJ’s response include advocating for greater powers for the Children’s Hearing System; reforms to the court arena; increased use of Restorative Justice; and addressing the underlying factors – such as trauma and adversity – which precipitate contact with the justice systems.
CYCJ’s Director Fiona Dyer said:
“The Children’s Care and Justice Bill provides Scotland with a fantastic opportunity to achieve many of the ambitious conclusions set out within the promise. Our submission suggests a variety of ways to better support children who come into conflict with the law, whilst respecting their rights and protecting others from harm.
“CYCJ believes that the Children’s Care and Justice Bill has the potential to significantly change the manner in which children are dealt with by the state and corporate parents. Currently, Scotland’s children do not enjoy the full spectrum of their human rights when they have come into conflict with the law, and there is a risk that this will continue to be the case should this Bill not be progressed.
“As a centre that is collaborating on achieving a rights-respecting justice system for all, it is our opinion that implementation of the Bill is essential in achieving the ambition of making Scotland the best place in the world for all children.”
Key issues identified by CYCJ for consideration include:
- Everyone in Scotland under the age of 18 should be defined as a child and have their human rights as a child upheld in all situations
- There should be maximum use of the children’s hearings system for all children, including those who have been harmed, or where they have been accused of causing harm. There are a variety of reasons, such as UNCRC compliance, justice, fairness and rights, general direction of travel that Scotland has taken in recent years, brain development not being complete until the mid-20s, and how we respond to 16 and 17 year olds appearing in court.
- The children’s hearings system must maintain its primary focus on responding to the needs of the child before them, with voluntary bodies or third sector partners tasked and supported to deliver help and support to those who have been harmed.
- No child in Scotland should appear in an adult court. CYCJ calls for youth courts to be available across Scotland for children whose risk cannot be managed through the children’s hearing system.
- No child in Scotland should be placed in a Young Offenders Institution; instead, to meet the recommendations in the promise, all children who need to, should have access to smaller
- The current definition of ‘secure accommodation’ does not meet Scotland’s current and future needs. It is not reflective of the language used in the promise and reference to its purpose as restricting liberty rather than safety, security, needs, strengths and risks, and trauma-informed care, is out of kilter with thinking in Scotland at this time. However, we believe that all children under the age of 18 should be able to be placed in secure care where this has been deemed necessary, proportionate and in their best interest. A new national approach for considering the placement of children in secure care is also needed.