HC Deb 28 June 1974 vol 875 cc1959-61

Where a ground for the referral of a child's case to a Children's hearing under the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 is that mentioned in section 32(2)(g) of that Act (commission by the child of an offence) and that ground has either been accepted by the child and where necessary, by his parent or been established to the satisfaction of the sheriff under section 42 of that Act, the acceptance or establishment of that ground shall be treated for the purposes of this Act (but not otherwise) as a conviction, and any disposal of the case thereafter by a children's hearing shall be treated for those purposes as a sentence; and references in this Act to a person's being charged with or prosecuted for an offence shall be construed accordingly.—[Mr. Robert Hughes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Robert Hughes)

I beg to move, that the clause be read a Second time.

The effect of the clause is to apply the provisions and the benefits of the Bill to children who have committed offences in Scotland and whose cases have been disposed of by children's hearings. This application is achieved by equating to a "conviction" the acceptance of fact of commission of an offence, or the estab lishment of such commission by the sheriff; and also by equating to a "sentence" the disposal of a case normally by imposing a supervision requirement.

The clause makes it clear that these effects referred to are for the purposes of the application of the Bill and not for other purposes.

The system of children's panels in Scotland has got away from the concept of prosecution for offences, convictions and sentences. Children may be referred to informal hearings of three lay persons by an official called the reporter on a variety of grounds, though mainly offences. If the grounds for referral are accepted by the child or his parent, or subsequently established by the sheriff, the hearing considers whether to discharge the referrals or to make a residential or non-residential supervision requirement. In what is to some extent a treatment situation the hearing has to take its decision in the best interests of the child. The trouble is that this leaves the system outside the benefits of this Bill.

Although, for example, the supervision requirements following a referral for offences are not sentences they may still be regarded much in that light by some, and employers may well ask whether an individual has had any convictions or has been under a children's panel supervision requirement. It is wrong that a system designed to take children out of the elements of a criminal situation should leave them worse off in these rehabilitation terms.

12 noon.

I now turn to Amendments Nos. 9 and 10. The effect of the amendments is to make provision for a rehabilitation of six months where the referral of a child to a children's hearing in Scotland has been discharged by the hearing.

It is necessary to make provision for rehabilitation periods for decisions of children's hearings. They are not convictions in the sense in which they are normally described. The aim has been to create a system for children outside the court structure. But inquiries are not infrequently made as to whether young people have appeared before a children's hearing and what the result was because of offences that they have committed. It would be wrong to deny them the benefit of the Bill when, it they had committed serious offences and appeared before the courts, they would have had its protection.

Discharge by a children's hearing is therefore treated for the purposes of the Bill as technically a sentence. That is provided for in new Clause 3. It attracts the same rehabilitation period as discharge by a court.

Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 are drafting amendments. A supervision requirement is not an order and there-for the more general term of sentence is to be used. The effect of the amendments is, like the previous amendments about discharge by a hearing, to enable a rehabilitation period to be fixed for a supervision requirement by a children's hearing in Scotland under the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. The reason is the same as that given for discharge—namely, the need to rehabilitate a person who has been the subject of a supervision requirement made by a children's hearing.

Residential supervision requirements and non-residential supervision requirements are broadly equivalent to care orders under the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. The rehabilitation period is the same, namely, the period during which the order is enforced or one year from its being made, whichever ends the later. The formula in the Bill as it stands breaks down if conviction and sentence take place at different times. The new wording removes any doubt by tying the beginning of the period firmly to the date of conviction The amendments are within the principle of the Bill and I commend them to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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