‘Rights respecting’ report calls for Scottish youth justice reform

The Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ) has published a powerful new report calling for Scotland to ensure its youth justice system is truly ‘rights respecting’, if it is to uphold the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

‘Rights Respecting? Scotland’s approach to children in conflict with the law’, will be launched at tonight’s (January 30) Kilbrandon Lecture on children’s services and the rights of children. The lecture is to be given by leading human rights lawyer Professor Manfred Nowak, who led the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty.

The report is the first of its kind to translate the UNCRC into Scottish specific actions to improve policy, practice and experience in youth justice.

It is written by CYCJ’s director, Dr Claire Lightowler, who took a year’s sabbatical to dedicate herself to exploring the complex and often emotive issues around offending by children, based on CYCJ’s belief that youth justice in Scotland requires a reconfiguration on a scale not seen since Kilbrandon.

Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner said:

“Children who come into conflict with the law have the right to be treated with humanity, dignity and in a way that takes into account the needs of their age. This robust and impressive report is the first piece of work that comprehensively examines Scotland’s youth justice system from a rights-based perspective. It demands that we look critically at our society and how we value children. We need to continue to challenge law, policy and practice from a rights perspective in order for children to experience a justice system that upholds their rights, fully supports their needs, and crucially, recognises first and foremost that they are children. The Scottish Government has committed to incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law next year which will allow children and their families legal redress should their rights not be respected, protected and fulfilled. This report is a significant milestone on that journey to a youth justice system where children’s human rights are fully embedded.”

Alison Reid, Principal Solicitor, Clan Childlaw said:

“This report is an immensely important, thoughtful, comprehensive and timely analysis of Scotland’s record in respecting the rights of children who are in conflict with the law, demonstrating the urgent need – and opportunity before us – to ensure the rights children are guaranteed under international human rights law are upheld and form the basis of all legislation, policy and practice. As the report so clearly articulates, rights are for all children and all children must be able to access them.”

Professor Sandy Cameron CBE, past President of ADSW (the Association of Directors of Social Work) and Chair of the CYCJ Executive Governance Group, said:

“In the 1960s, Kilbrandon’s report had a major impact on Scotland’s approach and half a century on, this report makes a very convincing argument for a similar reframing of the issues and scale of change.

“A focus on children’s rights is proposed as the foundation for the ongoing development of youth justice improvement in Scotland. This will enable a truly preventative, ethical and legal approach to children who come into contact with the justice system, ensuring that we don’t leave anyone behind in our pursuit of universal children’s rights.

“Most importantly, this report contains some uncomfortable truths about our approach to our young people and thereby highlights that there is no room for complacency in Scotland’s approach to children in conflict with the law.  Just as we made major advances as a result of Kilbrandon, I believe Scotland can take another important step forward if we pay attention to this report.”

Claire Lightowler said:

“We saw the incorporation of UNCRC as a window of opportunity. There’s something fundamental about the challenge of levelling up between welfare and needs on one hand and control and punishment on the other, yet little thought has been given to this from a rights perspective.

“If we are holding traumatised children solely responsible for their actions, putting them through processes they do not understand and putting barriers in the way of their loving and caring relationships, is this justice in the true meaning of the word? There is some truth in the focus on children as troubled, challenged, vulnerable and challenging, and it is often well-meaning, but it can have negative unintended consequences for the most disadvantaged children.”

View the report’s summary here.

View the children and young people friendly version here.

On January 31, a ‘Rights Respecting’ symposium was held at the University of Strathclyde to celebrate the launch of this report. A panel of leading youth justice speakers discussed and debated the issues emerging, and what next steps might look like. Read the note here.

Image credit: ‘Be Brave for Our Rights’ shield by Tammy Henderson, supported by the Children’s Parliament.

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Children's and Young People's Centre for Justice
University of Strathclyde
Lord Hope Building, Level 6
141 St. James Road Glasgow G4 0LT

(0141) 444 8622


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