HC Deb 12 June 1968 vol 766 cc398-404

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. McBride.]

11.3 p.m.

Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)

We have had juvenile courts for 60 years, and I find that many people mistakenly think that all children in trouble are brought before these courts. Unfortunately, this is not so, and tonight I wish to speak of a case which concerns a boy of 13. I should not have spoken of this case without the permission of his mother, and if the case had not been dealt with in the Press. Again, I find that many people mistakenly think that the Press does not print details concerning children, but, of course, this is something which is at the discretion of magistrates which they may or may not care to exercise.

The Press report in this case said: A youth and a boy, both of Gorleston, were sent for trial at the next Norfolk Quarter Sessions on four theft charges when they appeared at Yarmouth Magistrates' Court on Wednesday. They were Alan Bardy Smith (19), of 11 Hazel Way, Gorleston, and Dyarral Shaun Michael Patrick Byrne (13), of 39 Pier Plain, Gorleston. The appearance of this report caused considerable distress to the other members of the boy's family. Of course, children as well as adults read local newspapers, and the news of Dyarral's trouble soon became known to his friends at school.

The facts of the case are simple. Dyarral had been in previous trouble on several occasions. On 21st March, in the company of this 19-year-old youth, he was arrested. Both were already on bail at the time. The police questioned the boy in the presence of his mother after the arrest and, very sensibly, allowed him to go home for the night. Subsequently, they questioned the youth of 19. As he was on bail, and not a child, he was not released for the night. Next day, both were brought before the magistrates court.

At this point, the question of my hon. Friend's responsibility comes into the picture, because, after the case had been heard, the magistrates decided that the boy should not return to stay with his mother as he had done the previous night, but should be sent to a remand centre. He was sent to a centre some hundreds of miles away, in Somerset. It seems extraordinarily heartless to do that to a boy of 13. Either he should have been allowed to stay at home, or, if the magistrates decided otherwise, he should have been sent to a remand centre near his home. One has to imagine the psychological effect on a child of this age having to appear before a magistrates court.

After a number of days, Dyarral was brought back to the magistrates court and remanded for trial at quarter sessions. I am pleased to say that, on this occasion, my hon. Friend exercised his discretion and sent the boy to a remand centre which was nearer his home—

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan)

indicated dissent.

Dr. Gray

If that is not so, I have been wrongly informed, and I am doubly distressed if he was again sent some hundreds of miles away.

On 8th April, both appeared at quarter sessions, where they were found guilty, and Dyarral was sent to an approved school.

By an extraordinary coincidence, this case came to light at the same time as the Home Office issued its pamphlet, "Children in Trouble". As one reads through Dyarral's history, it seems that one is reading about a case which might have happened in the 19th century, long before the juvenile courts were established. It is a perfect illustration of the need for a White Paper of this kind to be published.

Dealing with young offenders aged between 10 and 14, it says that, where proceedings are necessary, perhaps they should be brought under care and protection or control procedures rather than that children should be dragged before adult courts.

I have discussed his case with a number of my hon. Friends who are members of the legal profession, and they have told me that they know of many other cases and that the only reason why the subject has not been raised before on the Adjournment is that very properly no publicity had been given to them. I hope that my hon. Friend's reply will not only take account of the characteristics of Dyarral's case, but the general situation it illustrates, which is a scar on our civilisation and one which should be removed very quickly. It is disgraceful that a boy of 13 should be subjected to this kind of procedure and brought before adult courts.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan)

The case which my hon. Friend has raised this evening brings to the attention of the House an important subject—the way in which we deal with children who break the law.

It is a subject which, as the House knows, the Home Office has been considering recently, and it is useful to have brought to our attention a particular case which highlights some of the difficulties and the complexities of this question.

The facts as reported to me are as follows. On 13th March this year, Dyarral Byrne, who is 13 years old, was charged with housebreaking and larceny. The offences were alleged to have been committed jointly with a youth of 19. In the ordinary way a boy of this age would appear before a juvenile court, which has power to try any offence, except homicide, committed by a child. But there are difficulties about bringing a boy before a juvenile court where he is jointly charged with a person over 17.

It would be undesirable to try an adult in the juvenile court, and in any case there would be complications where the offence was one which could not be tried in a magistrates' court in the case of the older person, or where he had a right to elect trial by jury. Separate trials, one in the juvenile court and the other in the adult court, would present difficulties where the charges are based on substantially the same facts. The law provides that where a juvenile and a person over 17 are jointly charged the case must be brought before the adult magistrates' court.

Under the law as it stands, the police have no discretion in this matter, and Dyarral and the other accused were brought before the Great Yarmouth magistrates' court on 13th March.

As I have said, one of the charges in this case was housebreaking, which is not an offence for which a magistrates' court may try a person who is over 17. It was, therefore, necessary for the magistrates to commit the older defendant for trial. Again, because of the difficulty of separate trials, the law enables the court to commit both defendants for trial if it thinks it is necessary in the interests of justice.

In this case, the court committed both accused for trial at Norfolk Quarter Sessions and granted them bail. The court in this case was acting under the provisions of Section 21 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952, sub-section (1) of which says Where a person under fourteen years old appears or is brought before a magistrates' court on an information charging him with an indictable offence other than homicide, he shall be tried summarily: Provided that, if a person under fourteen is charged jointly with a person who has attained that age, the court may, if it considers it necessary in the interests of justice, commit them both for trial. The position is that although it was necessary for this case in the circumstances to be brought before the adult court, there was a discretion vested in the magistrates' court as to whether or not it should commit both of them for trial. There was, of course, no discretion so far as the older defendant was concerned.

Following that hearing, at 9.45 p.m. on 21st March, Dyarral and the same youth were arrested on a fresh charge of housebreaking committed on that day and were taken to Gorleston police station. This was a further offence of housebreaking committed when they were both already on bail to appear at Norfolk Quarter Sessions. Mrs. Byrne was sent for and went to the police station. She asked that her son be allowed to return home and Dyarral was released on bail and went home with his mother.

Because the accused were already on bail in connection with another charge, the police refused to release the older youth on bail. This meant that he had to appear before a magistrates' court the next morning. The police then realised that since Dyarral was jointly charged with him, he would have to appear at the same time. A police officer was sent to Dyarral's home the next morning to explain the position to Mrs. Byrne, and she and her son were taken by police car to the court. The court remanded both the accused until 29th March and refused bail because the alleged offences were committed when the accused were already on bail. There was no vacancy in the remand home at Bramerton Lodge, near Norwich, and Dyarral was taken to a remand home in Somerset, which was the nearest remand home with a vacancy.

I do not pretend that this is a position which one can accept with complacency. I have investigated the matter and I understand that before being sent to the remand home in Somerset wide, exhaustive and assiduous inquiries were made concerning vacancies in many other remand homes nearer to Norfolk, but without success. I understand that the question of his being sent to Somerset was announced by the court when it remanded Dyarral, and that Mrs. Byrne was present.

On 29th March both were again committed for trial at Norfolk Quarter Sessions. The reasons for Dyarral's appearance before the ordinary magistrates' court and for his committal to the Sessions for trial were the same as on the previous charge. There was by now a vacancy in the remand home at Bramerton Lodge and Dyarral was sent there. At the trial on 8th April both the accused pleaded not guilty to the charge of house breaking but guilty to the other charges, and this was accepted by the prosecution. Dyarral was sent to an approved school and the older youth to Borstal.

As my hon. Friend said, a further result of Dyarral's appearance before the adult court was that the newspapers were free to publish his name, which they could not have done if he had appeared before the juvenile court because there is an absolute prohibition in that respect. The law gives the adult court power, under Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, to direct that the names of juveniles who appear before it shall not be published. Although this matter was raised at the court, the court did not see fit to give any direction in this case. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, neither I nor anyone else in the House can properly comment on that decision.

I sympathise with the view that a boy of 13 should not be arraigned before a jury at quarter sessions and liable to have his name published in the newspapers simply because he is alleged to have committed an offence in company with an older person. If my hon. Friend refers to the White Paper "Children in Trouble", published recently by the Home Secretary, he will find proposals under which a child of 14 would not be brought before an adult court in any circumstances. The White Paper also contains proposals under which a wider variety of accommodation would become available for children on remand, and so avoid the need for long journeys when a local remand home is full. Since legislation would be required before these proposals could take effect, it would not be in order for me to go into them in greater detail now.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this question and I give him the fullest assurance that what he has said will be fully borne in mind.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes past Eleven o'clock.