Thursday, January 17, 2008

Justice Secretary MacAskill holds up youth court plans

More ideas from the Justice Secretary put on hold again ...

The Herald reports :

Dismay as youth court plans are put on hold

Exclusive by ROBBIE DINWOODIE, Chief Scottish Political Correspondent January 17 2008

Ministers have halted the expansion of youth courts, a decision which has enraged Labour and will dismay SNP back benchers.

Several SNP members have campaigned for the new specialist courts in Paisley, Kilmarnock and Dundee but this decision has now been put off for at least a year as the whole summary justice system is re-evaluated.

The government says the cost involved - each court would cost £1m a year - "cannot be accommodated within the new baseline for offender services for the next three years".

If youth courts are abandoned it will have serious implications for other specialist hearings such as drug courts and community courts which have also been seen as a way of breaking the cycle of overcrowded prisons.

Youth courts were launched in 2003 to tackle crime and disorder. It was hoped the courts would prevent some youngsters slipping into a lifetime of crime and imprisonment.

However, last year a report by Audit Scotland challenged the effectiveness of the government's measures to crack down on youth crime, including youth courts, questioning whether the initiatives offered value for money.

The decision to halt expansion, expected to be announced today, was branded "absurd" last night by Labour's Pauline McNeill, who said the courts had been popular with police, prosecutors and the bench, and had been backed by many SNP MSPs.

She said: "I find it astonishing that their calls have gone unheard by their own minister. Labour found the money for the extension of youth courts because they work."

The tone of advice to ministers, which The Herald has seen, suggests that the whole youth court experiment faces being abandoned.

An advice note by a senior civil servant states: "We suggest that rather than outright dismissal of the possibility of further youth courts we should indicate that a decision has been deferred to spring 2009 to coincide with the review of the Hamilton and Airdrie youth courts.

"This will put all decisions regarding the future of youth courts on a similar time frame and will allow for an assessment to be made of the need for this type of specialist court in the light of the summary justice reforms.

"More importantly it would also allow a piece of work to be undertaken to assess the effectiveness of youth courts in terms of impacting on reconviction rates."

However, a government spokes-man said the delay was not about diluting or undermining the concept: "Youth courts are an important part of the adult court system that is about to go through major change, meaning that decisions have to be taken in the round," he said.

Three new youth courts proposed for Paisley, Kilmarnock and Dundee will not now go ahead for a period of at least a year, while the fate of the original pilots at Hamilton and Airdrie will also be decided after the completion of a review in spring of next year.

The Herald understands that a key consideration about running costs of youth courts is that they are likely to hand down complex disposals involving intensive social work intervention.

The advice to ministers makes clear that the last administration put in place resources for three new youth courts, but sheriffs in Dundee had said establishing one there would require "disproportionate levels of capital expenditure".

No comments: