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Young Offenders: Review of Restraint

Volume 698: debated on Wednesday 6 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their response to the recommendation of INQUEST in its submission on the Review of Restraint that an independent inquiry should be established to examine the wider issues concerning the treatment of children in the youth justice system.

My Lords, INQUEST made the suggestion earlier in a letter to my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor. My right honourable friend gave detailed consideration of the proposal in his reply. He concluded that the major questions are already being addressed; for example, by the joint review of the use of restraint in juvenile secure settings. For that reason, a public inquiry would not be justified.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that to have a justice system in which, since 1990, 30 children in custody, and therefore in the care of the state, and 201 young people aged 18 to 19 have died, and where victims’ families have had to wait up to two years to secure an inquest, suggests that there has to be an urgent, fundamental, root-and-branch review of what we are doing with our youth justice system and whether we are not manufacturing criminals?

My Lords, my noble friend would acknowledge that, notwithstanding many of the issues and problems that he raised, considerable emphasis has been placed on improving the youth justice system in recent years and ensuring that, as far as possible, young people are given programmes that help them to be rehabilitated and prevent reoffending. Any death of a child in custody is of course very much to be regretted. The aim of the Youth Justice Board is to do everything it can to ensure that that does not happen in the future and that those children are properly cared for and protected.

My Lords, the review of restraint has been awaited with considerable interest by those of us who are concerned about the use of restraint on children. Will the Government publish the review and, if so, when? Given that the review was set up in response to concerns that emerged during the inquest on the restraint-related death of Gareth Myatt, why have the Government still not formally responded to the rule 43 report by the deputy coroner, Judge Pollard?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, the review of restraint was established following the debate in your Lordships’ House last summer on the statutory instrument which concerned the use of restraint. I understand that the review is due to report to Ministers by April this year. The chairs are consulting a wide range of stakeholders before reporting. Ministers will then consider the conclusions and make any decisions regarding what action needs to be taken and any publication.

My Lords, we spent much of yesterday— in fact, virtually the whole of yesterday—debating the entire youth justice system. We have now had a request from the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for a further inquiry into these matters following the Government’s own review of restraint and other matters. Bearing in mind the chaos that seems to exist in the Minister’s department, the Ministry of Justice, does he not think that it might be better if we just took away the whole of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, went home early, and the Government thought out these matters slightly better and came back with some considered proposals?

No, my Lords. The Ministry of Justice is an excellent department, which is making a great deal of sense in co-ordinating its different responsibilities. We should not ignore the improvements that have been made in relation to young people in the criminal justice system. As I said yesterday, over our many happy hours of debate, there is a lot more that also needs to happen. However, I think that the Bill is perfectly ordered and rounded and we should proceed swiftly to take it through your Lordships' House so that we can get it on the statute book.

My Lords, I take it that the Minister would agree that it is quite indefensible that different standards should prevail in our national criteria to do with the care and protection of children and in the criminal justice system. I invite him also to agree that that means that the use of strip-searching and segregation in the criminal justice system for children is something that needs a very sharp examination, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, recommended in his report for the Howard League a couple of years ago.

My Lords, I am grateful to the most reverend Primate for that question. With regard to strip-searching, I understand that the Youth Justice Board plans to have a review of it very shortly—and obviously we would be very interested to see the outcome. The principal objective of the youth justice system has to be the prevention of offending, because it is within the criminal justice system. However, alongside that, of course the welfare considerations of the child must also be considered.

My Lords, later this year the United Kingdom will be visited again by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The last time that it came here, it produced an absolutely devastating report and an indictment of the way in which we were looking after young people. In view of all that has been said in relation to the Bill and other aspects, is the Minister confident that this time we shall receive a clean slate from the committee?

My Lords, I shall not forecast the conclusions of that visit. All I will say is that in relation to restraint we have established the review, and we should see what the outcome is. We have debated the issue extensively and I suspect that this afternoon we will debate it more. We are committed to a youth justice system that has as its principal aim the reduction and prevention of offending. It does take account of the welfare of the child, with a lot of emphasis on rehabilitation, and resettlement in the case of those young people who have gone into custody, but with much more emphasis on community sentences when that is appropriate. That is very much the way forward.