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Commissioner puts youth justice system in the dock

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A MAJOR light is to be shone on youth justice in Jersey, the Children’s Commissioner has announced as she described the government’s response to repeated recommendations to improve the system as ‘disjointed’.

Deborah McMillan

Deborah McMillan said her office would be spending the next few months researching the subject and hearing from children with experience of the justice system, either as victims or alleged or proven perpetrators.

She then plans to publish a report with the findings alongside a number of recommendations to improve the system.

Mrs McMillan said repeated reports, including the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry in its original and follow up reports, had exposed the need to improve youth justice in Jersey but so far not enough progress had been made.

‘The Independent Jersey Care Inquiry in 2017 said quite a lot about youth justice – they talked about Greenfields and other elements of youth justice including the parish hall inquiry system and diversion. And they made some recommendations. Following that the government undertook a Youth Justice Review, again that said actually we need a strategy, we need a prevention strategy, we need to do training, we need to look at our use of Greenfields.

‘Then they did another Greenfields review. But when the care inquiry came back in July last year they said the same things because nothing much had changed. We are still sending children to detention at Greenfields, for example. Therefore a decision was made by myself and my team that child-focused justice would be a priority for us in 2020.’

The work will take place in three stages – analysing data that exists about children in the justice system, a review of all policies and guidelines that exist on the subject through a child rights lens and hearing the voices of children and young people.

To kick-start the project the commissioner recently hosted a multi-agency round table discussion with representatives from departments and sections of the government that are relevant to youth justice.

Human rights lawyer Dr Elina Steinerte also provided an introduction to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s general comment 24. Published in November, the comment is highly regarded as an international standard on child justice.

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‘It was a really successful meeting – for some of the agencies and departments involved they hadn’t sat around the table before,’ said Mrs McMillan. ‘There was a real consensus for these discussions to continue and develop and there was a massive recognition that actually we could always do more to improve to make sure our justice system is child friendly.’

Last year’s Youth Justice Review, which was carried out in response to the care inquiry, put raising the age of criminal responsibility and imposing more sentences of restorative justice among a raft of recommendations.

It praised relevant agencies for improvements since a previous review was carried out nine years earlier but said there were still improvements that should be made.

One area that needs looking at, according to Mrs McMillan, is how and when children and young people are detained. The UNCRC says that they should only be detained as a last resort.

However, figures recently showed that children are regularly being held in police cells – some for up to 12 hours – in Jersey, with almost 700 incidents between 2015 and 2019.

Mrs McMillan added that one young person had also recently been sentenced to nine months’ detention at Greenfields.

Lucy Stephenson

By Lucy Stephenson
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