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Children Remanded in Custody

Volume 750: debated on Tuesday 14 May 2024

1. What recent assessment he has made of the potential implications for his policies of the number of children being remanded to custody. (902785)

Custody is reserved for those convicted or accused of the most grave offences, and the total number of children in detention has fallen by 82% since 2010. Before a child can be remanded, the court must be satisfied that it is very likely that the defendant will receive a custodial sentence, and must have explicitly considered and rejected the option of remanding him or her into local authority care.

Some 44% of places in youth custody are taken up by children and young people on remand who do not go on to receive a custodial sentence. Yet children held in young offenders institutions spend most of their time locked up in their cells, amid high levels of violence. Does the Minister think that that is the best place to spend time during adolescence?

The hon. Lady makes an important and compassionate point. It is absolutely right that we should invest in the estate, and I am pleased that we are investing in a new secure school, which will open soon. She makes an important point about the decision to remand. Those decisions are made by independent judges—that is correct—but I hope that she will join me in recognising that the reduction in the overall number of children in custody by 82% since 2010 is a positive thing. When I was prosecuting, young people were going inside for being passengers in vehicles taken without consent. Now, they are inside only for the most grave offences.

Will the Lord Chancellor take into consideration one of the recommendations of the Wade report on sentencing for murder? The definition of “children” should be reconsidered. At the moment, someone who is 16 or very often 17 might be tried when they are 18, but they are sentenced as if they are a child. Surely the question should be the crime rather than the age.

We have altered the sentencing regime such that the courts can take into account what can be quite significant gaps between the sentencing regime that applies to a 17-year-old and that which applies to an 18-year-old. The courts now have additional discretion to ensure that if somebody is very close to their 18th birthday, they can be treated as more mature, which can mean, in appropriate cases, that the punishment will be more severe.

Almost two thirds of children on remand in youth detention do not go on to receive a custodial sentence, and 17% are acquitted, meaning that they were freed from a criminal charge altogether. It costs between £129,000 and £306,000 per year to keep just one child on remand in youth custody. Does the Minister view that as the best use of public money, or does he feel that it could be managed in a more efficient and effective way with an alternative remand provision?

In 2010, the total number of children in custody was over 3,000; that figure is now around 500, so there has been a significant reduction. The decision of whether to remand is a matter for the judges. They can remand in custody only if there are substantial grounds for believing that, if released on bail, the child will commit further offences or indeed fail to surrender. We are also investing millions of pounds in Greater Manchester, for example, to see whether there are other options in remanding children into local authority accommodation and not necessarily into custody.