HC Deb 21 July 1977 vol 935 cc1827-8
5. Mr. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will bring forward proposals for improving the system for handling and treating young offenders in juvenile courts in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Carter

An inter-departmental review group under the chairmanship of Sir Harold Black is carrying out a comprehensive review of legislation and services for children and young persons, including the rôle of juvenile courts.

The group issued a consultative document last month. Meanwhile, we are not aware of major inadequacies in the present arrangements for dealing with young offenders in juvenile courts in Northern Ireland which require short-term and piecemeal changes.

Mr. Townsend

Does not the Minister appreciate that the whole structure for handling young offenders in Northern Ireland by the courts, training establishments and the probation service has fallen about 10 years behind current practice in the United Kingdom and that young offenders are more frequently given custodial sentences in Northern Ireland? Will the Government take vigorous steps to put this right?

Mr. Carter

That is precisely why we have a review of the present procedures. I can only agree with the hon. Gentleman. If he has specific observations to make, I am sure that the review body will be pleased to receive them.

Mr. Hardy

Without anticipating that review, can my hon. Friend tell us whether there are a sufficient number of probation officers and social workers, especially in the areas of difficulty?

Mr. Carter

In the peculiar circumstances in which we live in Northern Ireland, the probation service and the social services as a whole are fully equipped to deal with the current situation. Once again, the review body will look at all aspects of juvenile crime.

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