Friday, January 18, 2008

Justice Secretary MacAskill defends decision to delay youth courts

The Justice Secretary makes plans for youth courts, delays them, then explains the delays.All in a days work ...

The Herald reports :

MacAskill defends decision to put youth courts on hold

ROBBIE DINWOODIE, Chief Scottish Political Correspondent January 18 2008

The Justice Secretary stressed yesterday that he was a supporter of youth courts and believed the system would be extended across the country next year.

But he defended the decision to put the roll-out on hold so that proper evaluation could be carried out to confirm anecdotal evidence that the pilot courts in Airdrie and Hamilton are successfully tackling the reoffending rate.

"I am actually a big fan of youth courts," said Kenny MacAskill, who was a court solicitor before turning to politics. "But we cannot proceed with spending large sums of taxpayers' money based on nothing more than anecdotal impressions."

As The Herald revealed yesterday, ministers have decided to delay establishing new youth courts in Paisley, Kilmarnock and Dundee until spring next year, by which time an evaluation will have been made of the two pilot courts.

"I think I can hold off until 2009 and make sure that we have the funds available then. If we're going to expand youth courts, and I'm very sympathetic to that, I'm on record as having said that, I do have to have some empirical evidence on which its based.

"The review that was set up a while back was to report in 2009. Let's hold off to see that the empirical evidence backs up the anecdotal evidence and then we can act on the basis of all the facts."

He was backed in this stance by First Minister Alex Salmond who told MSPs: "It was the previous executive who decided that there should be a review of the youth court system, which I think has broad support and there is certainly anecdotal evidence in favour."

He said this was to allow a review to take place next spring in the light of the impact of changes to the summary justice system.

But Labour leader Wendy Alexander said: "The last executive decided to open three more youth courts. There were no ifs or buts from your own benches when they saw the results of these courts."

She cited SNP MSPs who had asked for youth courts for their own areas and demanded: "Have they all changed their minds overnight?"

Earlier, Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Margaret Smith said: "The government seems lukewarm on domestic abuse courts and now are turning their backs on youth courts.

"There is no evidence to suggest that the pilot youth courts are failing and an evaluation of domestic abuse courts found a high level of support for the scheme to be rolled out across Scotland."

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