HC Deb 07 March 1991 vol 187 cc445-6
7. Mr. Michael

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what arrangements he intends to make in the way juvenile or youth courts are organised, particularly in relation to waiting room arrangements and supervision once the age limits are raised to 18 years.

Mr. John Patten

Responsibility for listing arrangements in magistrates courts rests with justices' clerks. There are already statutory provisions to ensure that defendants attending juvenile courts are kept apart from adult defendants. The Justices' Clerks Society and the Magistrates Association are being consulted about ways of arranging youth court hearings and we have asked the best practice committee to consider practical best practice procedures for courts to adopt in future, if these are found to be necessary.

Mr. Michael

But it is the Government who are changing the age limit upwards by a year in relation to the juvenile or youth courts. Does not the Minister accept that the message given to young people, particularly young offenders, in the waiting room and in the area around a court, is in some cases almost as important as the message given to them in the court about their activities and future behaviour? Does he agree that the message that they frequently get is entirely wrong and completely contrary to the one that society would like them to receive? Does he further agree that a mechanism should be devised—whether it be advice or instructions—to ensure that 18-year-olds and very young people appearing before such courts are separated, so that very young people do not get the messages that might be given to them by more sophisticated offenders?

Mr. Patten

I agree with both points. The messages that juveniles get from rubbing shoulders with tougher and older accused people who are waiting outside a court can be very bad. That is why, as I pointed out in my initial answer to the hon. Gentleman, we wish to move as quickly as possible towards ensuring that we use the procedures drawn up by the best practice committee, under the Home Office magistrates courts adviser, to ensure that court clerks and others separate younger from older juveniles. We shall also be building into the guidance on the design of court houses exactly the points that cause concern to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. John Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government's decision to create youth courts under the Criminal Justice Bill has been widely welcomed throughout the criminal justice system? On the likely bad impression on young offenders, does my right hon. Friend agree that the worst possible impression is made on them when they are held on remand in prison? Does he further agree that the arrangements that the Government have introduced to ensure that we have a better system of looking after young people—whether in bail hostels or in remand prisons, which the private sector might build—will be conducive to ensuring a much reduced rate of recidivism among young offenders?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is right. The provisions for the introduction of a youth court under the Criminal Justice Bill have been widely welcomed across the spectrum—from those who describe themselves as penal reformers to those who want young people to get the punishment that they think they deserve. I also agree that it is important to end as soon as possible the practice of remanding juveniles in custody in prisons. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary published his consultation paper on the issue two or three weeks ago. That, too, has been widely welcomed.

On the last part of the question, my hon. Friend has already carved out for himself a considerable reputation as a proponent of the involvement of the private sector in prison and remand issues and we listen carefully to what he has to say.