The Commission on Young Lives is a major independent commission to evidence and design a new national system to prevent crisis in vulnerable young people and support them to succeed in life. It launched in September 2021 and is chaired by Anne Longfield CBE, the former Children’s Commissioner for England.
JUSTICE has submitted a response to the Commission’s Call for Evidence, drawing on a number of our Working Party reports including: Understanding Courts; Challenging School Exclusions; Tackling Racial Injustice: Children and the Youth Justice System; and our ongoing Working Party Improving Access to Justice for Separating Families.
We made a number of recommendations including:
- The criminalisation of children and young people: The Youth Justice System should prioritise the welfare of children over punitive responses, utilising diversion and deferred-prosecution schemes. Itshould meet the expectations of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities that they, and their children, will be treated fairly and justly at each stage.
- Education, exclusion, and special needs: The first stage of the review process, to exclude a pupil, should be conducted by an Independent Reviewer instead of school governors or trustees and all exclusion appeals should be heard by the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability).
- How effective partnership working, and information-sharing, can safeguard young people at risk of gang-related harm: the Gang Violence Matrix should be abolished. Until this is achieved, it should instead be used as a multi-agency safeguarding response, including social care and education, as opposed to a criminal response.
- What would help Youth Offending Teams improve outcomes for young people: Restorative practices, which looks at the root causes of problematic behaviour, should be used to better understand and engage with children in the Youth Justice System.
- How the court process can protect and support young people better: Lay users, especially children and young people, should be placed at the heart of the legal process, so that every effort is taken to enable them – according to their role − to understand and effectively take part in the legal process.
- Models of remand that would improve outcomes for young people: Custody should always be the last resort for children. Decisions regarding remand should be determined with the same seriousness, care, and consideration as sentencing, and possibly referred to district judges with sufficient experience and who can be appropriately trained, rather than lay magistrates
- A National Diversion Scheme: A national framework for diversion should be created to ensure children everywhere can receive specialist support not prosecution. The process should be mandatory and followed by all those who are part of the diversion decision-making process.
The Commission will publish its final recommendations in October 2022.