Criminal solicitors unveil strategy for youth justice

THE Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA) has joined in the national youth justice debate by drawing up a package of measures designed to tackle delays in the system.

CLSA chairman Steve Wedd presented the plans to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, and Home Secretary Jack Straw at last week's Speeding Up Youth Justice conference in London.

Its key proposal is a call for compulsory legal representation at police stations for young offenders. It also wants, in a bid to speed up the system, offenders aged 17 and over to use adult courts and parents to be compelled to attend each hearing.

And it wants to end the system whereby gangs of youths who offend together are dealt with together in court to allow cases to be handled more quickly, ensuring that offenders cannot re-offend while awaiting sentencing.

Straw announced last week that the Crime and Disorder Bill would give magistrates' courts new powers to lock up youth offenders as young as 12, preventing them from committing crime while waiting to appear in court. The Bill will also include “fast-track” youth justice whereby juveniles who receive two police warnings will be automatically arrested and prosecuted, and juveniles who commit a third offence will be classed as “persistent offenders” and tried and sentenced in 10 weeks instead of the usual 20.

In addition, Straw aims to introduce efficiency league tables of youth courts, and is considering introducing “fines”, possibly in the form of budget cuts for courts, lawyers, probation and police services who delay cases.

Wedd said making it compulsory for youths to be represented by solicitors in police stations would speed things up. He said youths tended to deny the crime in front of their parents and then feel they had to keep up the pretence.