HL Deb 05 November 1997 vol 582 cc292-3WA
Lord Monkswell

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their plans for implementing court-ordered secure remands for juveniles.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

At present when juveniles (aged 10 to 16 years) are charged and not released on bail after a court appearance, they are remanded to local authority accommodation. The local authority may, if it can satisfy certain strict conditions, return to the court and seek a secure accommodation order to place the juvenile in local authority secure accommodation. Separate arrangements exist for 15 and 16 year-old boys, who may be remanded direct to prison, again if strict conditions are met. The courts have no power to require any juvenile in this age group to be remanded directly to local authority secure accommodation.

There are, however, existing provisions on the statute book but not yet brought into force which would allow this to happen. Section 60 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 contains provision for the abolition of prison remands for 15 and 16 year-old boys, and gives courts a power to remand these boys, as well as 15 and 16 year-old girls, directly to local authority secure accommodation. Section 20 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 provides for the extension of court-ordered secure remands to 12 to 14 year-olds but only once the provision in Section 60 of the 1991 Act has been implemented for 15 and 16 year-olds.

Before the Government can implement section 60 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and the provisions in the 1994 Act, there must be available a sufficient number of places to meet the expected demand. This is not the case at the moment. Whilst a building programme was put in place to provide 170 new secure places in local authority accommodation for this purpose, the number of juveniles remanded in custody has increased significantly since the building programme began, and prison remands now typically stand within the 250 to 300 range. The demand from this group alone would significantly outstrip the capacity of the local authority secure estate even once the building programme has been completed.

The Government are keen to begin implementation of those provisions and have decided to do so in stages. The Government will, therefore, implement the provision in relation to 12 to 14 year-olds as soon as practicable.

The Government, therefore, propose

  1. (a) that court-ordered secure remands for 12 to 14 year-olds and 15 and 16 year-old girls will be implemented as soon as practicable; and
  2. (b) that the courts should be able to remand the most vulnerable 15 and 16 year-old boys direct to local authority secure accommodation rather than to prison, subject to certain criteria and if a place has been identified in advance.

Under the existing legislation, court-ordered secure remands for 12 to 14 year-olds cannot be implemented without first doing the same for 15 and 16 year-olds. The Government intend to use this Session's Crime and Disorder Bill to make the necessary legislative changes; Royal Assent is unlikely before summer 1998. The Government remain committed to implementing the provisions in full and will keep the position under review but we believe that our current approach is the most practical and effective way forward.

As part of the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review, we are also conducting a study of the whole range of secure accommodation for young people, including the local authority secure units. The Government wish to ensure that the assets and other resources employed in the accommodation and care of accused, convicted and other juveniles who need secure accommodation are used to best effect, including in meeting their educational needs and, where relevant, in tackling their offending behaviour. We will want to see how the proposed court-ordered remands and the associated accommodation fit into our plans for coming to grips with the present range of facilities which make up the juvenile secure estate. Our aim is to press on with this work as quickly as possible.

On 15 October, Directors of Social Services in England and Wales and the representative bodies of the local government associations and the directors of social services were informed of the Government's decision to implement these existing provisions. It was also suggested that there should be a meeting to discuss these proposals and the study of the juvenile secure estate. It is hoped that this meeting will take place shortly.