BAR COUNCIL member Allan Levy QC has called on the UK to introduce a Children's Rights Commissioner to protect the interests of the nation's youth.
Levy, who raised the issue at the eighth biennial meeting of the International Bar Association's Section on General Practice, said the idea had gained support among the UK legal profession in recent years.
He said attempts had already been made to introduce such a role through the Children (Scotland) Bill, but the idea was rejected by ministers on cost grounds. They also claimed a children's commissioner would not improve services.
Senior counsel in the Cleveland and Rochdale child abuse cases and a specialist in child law, Levy says the commissioner, who would ensure the regulations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children were met, would be government-funded but independent.
The commissioner would monitor legislation, including the Children Act 1989, and observe the broad range of youth interests, including issues such as legal rights, health, education and welfare.
“The commissioner would be an independent person who would look at potential legislation and the effects of it through the eyes of children,” said Levy.
The commissioner would also assess the need for inquiries and take an active part in advising on legislation.
Such commissioners already exist in other countries, including Australia, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand and Costa Rica, and Levy said their success highlighted the need in Britain for a nationally-recognised “champion of children”.
He said the appointed person, a high-profile public figure, would be supported by a staff of 40 to 50.
“It needs to be somebody who has a sympathy and understanding of children,” he said. “A high-profile person who knows their way around the corridors of power, who can deal with the media and has an independent attitude.”
Levy drew attention to the cases of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, the two boys tried for the murder of Liverpool toddler James Bulger, saying their trial and the spiralling juvenile crime rate resulted in a campaign against some children “in which the fact of childhood is no longer considered relevant”.
He criticised the failure of the UK to lift the age of criminal responsibility, saying the Bulger case had “revealed the unacceptable face of our criminal justice system in England concerning children”.
“It provides an unpalatable insight into outmoded thought, reform denied, and the appearance of political calculation,” Levy said.
“As far as the law is concerned children are not to be treated as children but as adults.”