The Howard League for Penal Reform and Just for Kids Law / Youth Justice Legal Centre have drafted a joint response to the consultation on the Law Commission’s draft Sentencing Code (disposals relating to children and young people).
Children and their families find the sentencing process frightening, inconsistent and confusing. The potential benefits of a more structured, transparent and accessible sentencing framework are recognised. As is the value of a system which enhances a sense of procedural fairness.
The availability of The Code on www.legislation.gov.uk will make it accessible to all which will encourage participation from all those involved in the process.
The draft Code defines children as those under 14 and young adults as 14 – 17 year olds (as per the Children and Young Persons Act 1933). The response to the consultation urges the authors of the Code to adopt the definition of children as all people under the age of 18. This would bring the definition in to line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), The Children Act and The Family Law Reform Act 1969. This approach is in line with government policy to ensure all new legislation gives due consideration to the UNCRC.
The response suggests that children are always referred to as ‘children’ rather than ‘offenders’. Paragraph 4.1 states “the welfare principle requires us to see children who commit offences as children first and offenders second”. The importance of avoiding negative labelling, which fails to discourage re-offending.
There is a significant body of evidence which shows that the part the brain which helps regulate decision-making and impulse control and underpins criminal behaviour continues to develop until a person is 25. As a result, there is a strong case for a distinct approach when sentencing 18 – 25s.
The consultation period for the Law Commission’s Sentencing Code Consultation has closed and the Code will be published in the summer of 2018.