Magistrates find no case for `name and shame' plan

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A Government initiative to allow courts to name and shame juveniles who commit minor offences was effectively killed off yesterday after magistrates denounced the plan as seriously flawed.

Under the proposal, magistrates at a youth court could name a defendant under the age of 18 if they decided it was in the public interest. The initiative is aimed at persistent offenders and nuisance crimes.

But the Magistrates' Association said yesterday that the scheme would encourage great-er offending and stigmatise innocent siblings. The success of the scheme would also depend on journalists being present at the youth courts - which rarely happens - and for the details to be published or broadcast.

At present, restrictions on identification exist to protect juveniles because of their age and vulnerability. Under the Government's plan, those acquitted would retain their anonymity. Reporters at Crown courts, where more serious offences are dealt with, can already name juveniles at the judge's discretion.

David Maclean, the Home Office minister, announced the latest proposals as an amendment to the Crime (Sentences) Bill, currently going through its committee stage at Westminster. He said: "The prospect of being identified publicly may act as a deterrent to young offenders. It should also prompt many of them and their families to think more carefully about their actions.

But a spokeswoman for the Magistrates' Association said: "We are not keen. It can cause siblings who are not guilty difficulty at school. It can cause the offenders to be hero-worshiped if they get their name in the paper. Also, in the majority of cases, the local community already know who the offenders are without splashing their names in the paper."

"We are very pleased that the Government has allowed us discretion whether to use the powers or not," she added.

t Another Government am- endment to the Crime Bill is likely to increase the daily prison population by 1,400 inmates, requiring two extra jails to be built, penal groups warned yesterday.

The amendment to the bill's so-called "honesty in sentencing" provisions would ensure that the sentence for a prisoner now sentenced to between three months and four years should be fixed at two-thirds of the current level, not at a half as the bill currently dictates.