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(Northern Ireland) Publication of Review of Youth Justice System

27th September 2011

Coming from a commitment in the Hillsborough Castle Agreement to "review of how children and young people are processed at all stages of the criminal justice system, including detention, to ensure compliance with international obligations and best practice", the main purpose of this review was to critically assess the current arrangements in place for responding to youth crime while also recommending how the situation might be improved.

While the authors of the report were mainly satisfied with the systems in place with youth justice at present, they make a number of recommendations which they believe are essential to ensure that the best interests of the child are adhered to and to make the most of the limited resources in the current economic climate.

The report on the review highlights that an estimated 10,000 young people come into contact with the criminal justice system every year, mostly for minor offences. The need for early intervention is encouraged in the report, as research has shown that investment in this reduces criminal behaviour.

Restorative justice practices in place are highly commended, and the authors believe that this area would be even more effective if delays were reduced.

Delays in most areas of youth justice is a particular problem and the report highlights how delays in cases involving young people can be more detrimental to their psyche than for adults. As such, one of the major recommendations in the report is that a statutory time limit should be introduced for all youth justice cases, which provides for a maximum 120 days from arrest to disposal.

The report also pushes for the introduction of bail without conditions as in most cases the conditions are usually not practicable. In cases where children are sent to a safe and secure place or they do not have a home to go to, the authors of the report are wary about the use of Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre. This centre is praised by the authors for its facilities, physical environment, the training and the professionalism of staff.  However, should a revolving door system become more prevalent, this will threaten the good work being  achieved by staff at the centre.

In order for an effective change in the Youth Justice system, it is essential that all agencies involved work together to ensure that the best interest of the children (both victims and offenders) is at the heart of any policies.  Interventions must be put in place early; agencies need to work together to prevent children entering the criminal justice system; and for those already in it, systems must be put in place to address their behaviour and hopefully prevent future re-offending.

The full 31 recommendations may be read in full in the report.

Read more:

  • Read the full report here.
  • Read the NI Department of Justice press release here.