Young offenders' parents face fines: Howard announces plans to enforce binding-over orders. Ian MacKinnon reports

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The Independent Online
PARENTS OF young offenders who fail to comply with court orders could be ordered to pay up to pounds 1,000 and ultimately be jailed if a proposal announced yesterday by the Government becomes law.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, said the new powers contained in an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill now before Parliament would enable courts to force parents to ensure that their children adhere to community sentences.

The move is designed to strengthen measures in the Criminal Justice Act making parents liable for fines and compensation for their children's crimes, and allowing them to be bound over to control their offending offspring, with a sanction of a pounds 1,000 fine should they refuse.

Yesterday's revelation that parents may be bound over to make sure offending children up to 16 do as ordered came during a conference in London, entitled Crime and the Family. It was immediately condemned by delegates.

It also contrasted with the message earlier in the day from the Princess Royal, who - in her role as president of the patrons of Crime Concern, a crime prevention charity - urged that society should seek genuine solutions to the problem of juvenile crime rather than look for scapegoats.

The Magistrates' Association, which successfully opposed earlier plans to oblige courts to bind parents over in the Criminal Justice Act, said the powers might occasionally be useful.

Rosemary Thomson, the association's chairman, said: 'My rapture about this is very modest. It might sometimes be a useful power. But it is unlikely to be used very frequently, partly because of the stress on the family, and because magistrates are not going to bind over parents if there is no realistic chance of it working.'

Mr Howard acknowledged that the power would not be appropriate in every case, though he believed that it would assist courts where it was felt that parental support would ensure children turned up at attendance centres, or kept appointments with social workers or probation officers. To cries of 'shame' from delegates to the Family Policy Studies Centre conference, he said: 'It is only right that parents who do not take their responsibilities seriously should not be allowed to wash their hands of their child once he offends.'

Tony Blair, Labour's home affairs spokesman, welcomed the move as a logical extension of existing legislation allowing parents to be bound over to prevent further offences. But he said that because of practical difficulties only three orders were made throughout 1991, the latest figures available.

However, Andrew Rutherford, chairman of the Howard League, the penal reform group, said: 'I'm appalled. The notion of fining, and possibly even sending to prison for failing to meet the bind over order, is utterly obscene. I hope it is roundly defeated when it comes to the parliamentary process.'

Roger Graef, a writer who has spent two years observing young offenders and their families, said: 'I was just sad. This punitive idea will only make things worse. All this pounds 1,000 threat will do is increase the tension in the home.'