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Courts should not deal with troublesome teens

Older teenagers who break the law should be dealt with at a children's hearing and not the courts, says an independent panel.

Review: Revamp of system for older teens urged

Older teenagers who get into trouble with the law should not be dealt with by the courts, an independent panel urged.

The panel, brought together by the charity Action for Children Scotland, have been examining how the children`s hearing system could be reformed and they called for it to be extended to deal with those aged 16 and 17.

At the moment, anyone of that age charged with an offence can be dealt with by the court system.

But the charity said that four out of five young people who are locked up before the age of 18 go on to commit further crimes.

The former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway, the panel chairman, said the current approach was "doing nothing" to prevent re-offending.

He argued: "We believe there is an unanswerable case for extending the use of the hearings to all those under 18.

"Use of adult courts for immature and usually poorly-supported and poorly-educated young people has serious consequences for them and is doing nothing to reduce offending or cut the steadily growing prison population."

He added: "It is also hugely expensive - it costs around £48,000 a year to keep someone in a young offenders' institution when there are more effective and much cheaper alternatives that work intensively with young people to reduce offending."

The panel - which also included the journalist and broadcaster Ruth Wishart and historian Professor Tom Devine - further called for greater investment to be made to stop young people from becoming involved in crime.

It also wants to see more support for families who are struggling to care for their children and new powers for children`s hearings to be able to commission services directly to help and support young people.

The recommendations come a week after the Scottish Government published new legislation aimed at improving the children`s hearing system.

Louise Warde Hunter, strategic director for Action for Children in Scotland and Northern Ireland, urged politicians to consider the panel`s report.

She said: "The Scottish Hearings system was revolutionary in bringing both care and justice issues together. It was seen as enlightened when it was first introduced and remains so today.

"We thank the members of the independent panel for reviewing the current arrangements and producing recommendations on how we can strengthen the system further. We hope politicians will reflect and act on the many good ideas contained within the report."

The children`s hearing system was set up in the 1960s to deal with youngsters who were in trouble or at risk.

It is based on the system of local people in the child`s own communities making decisions about how best to help and there are currently more than 2,500 volunteers who sit on local children`s panels.

Children`s Minister Adam Ingram said last week the reforms the Scottish Government had put forward would modernise the system and bring it up to date.

The proposals, contained in the Children`s Hearings (Scotland) Bill, will create a new national body with a convener, who will be responsible for setting standards for the recruitment, support and training of local children`s panel members.

The Bill also aims to ensure the fundamental principle of protecting children`s welfare remains at the heart of the system.

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