Judges seek curbs on juvenile offenders

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GREATER POWERS to lock up juvenile offenders were called for yesterday by judges giving evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

The judges, Mr Justice Curtis, Mr Justice Judge and representatives of the Council of Circuit Judges, told the committee that provisions in the 1991 Criminal Justice Act cut down the powers of the courts to stop juveniles becoming persistent offenders.

The typical offender might repeatedly steal or take and drive a number of motor vehicles, perhaps while breaching a probation or community service order, the judges said. But the Act meant that only the current offence, plus one other, could be taken into account when deciding whether a custodial sentence would be justified. A custodial sentence was, in any event, limited to 12 months in a young offender institution.

Both High Court judges called for an end to treating 17-year-olds as juveniles, another relatively recent legislative change, who were likewise subject to the 12-month maximum. Mr Justice Judge said most offenders regarded a custodial sentence, rather than community service, as a punishment.

Judge Felix Waley, chairman of the Council of Circuit Judges' criminal sub-committee, called for the re-introduction of the concept of the approved school, a move being considered by Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary.

That produced a difference of opinion with Joyce Rose, chairman of the Magistrates' Association, who said approved schools had not fulfilled their objective of preventing re-offending.

Two judges criticised the repeated use of cautioning, and all called for more secure accommodation units for young people who had to be remanded in custody.