Home Affairs Minister Wilfred Abrahams is urging caution against adding “unnecessary layers” to the Child Justice Bill.
He was responding to a question from Toni Moore, chair of the Joint Select Committee on the child justice and child protection bills, on whether the “diversion” process had been considered to shield minors in conflict with the law from having to go before the court, unless absolutely necessary.
Juvenile diversion approaches hold youth accountable for their behaviour without resorting to legal sanctions, court oversight or the threat of confinement.
“One of the submissions proposed that …it would be better if not a magistrate, but if a board with trained specialists like social workers, psychologists and so on would be put in place to determine whether diversion is necessary to alleviate a child having to stand before a magistrate and having to be in the system,” Moore said as the committee met on Tuesday, noting that under the bill, “there is no intention for anything in that informal process to be used against the child further on”.
However, Abrahams responded: “I think we have to be careful of adding unnecessary layers to a process. I believe the concerns of all can be addressed by ensuring that the magistrates have some very specific training that puts them in a position to deal in a humane way with these interventions and these inquiries”.
“If we try to divert or subvert the jurisdiction of the magistrate, you start to look at other broader constitutional issues…. If you actually start to add layers in that, we may find ourselves in a complicated process and we may actually hinder the same process we’re trying to improve upon,” the minister added.
He stressed that training would be required at every level to ensure that minors got the requisite help without having to enter the formal justice system.
“Our role is, so far as possible, to keep them from having to go to a trial. If everybody understands that and is trained with that in mind – and I don’t mean just legal training and judicial training (but) some sort of child psychological training – then I believe that those concerns are more than adequately addressed. I’m very hesitant to add further layers because then if we just keep piling layers to cure the problem, we’re going to have an unwieldy system. And if you actually go into the juvenile court now, you realise the policy with the magistrate, all those who deal with children, as much as possible, is to try to resolve the issue as opposed to sending a child through a trial. So everybody knows what we’re trying to accomplish with these pieces of legislation, and I do believe that training those who are involved in the system cures most of the ills rather than putting other layers on,” Abrahams stressed.
Acting Chief Parliamentary Counsel Shawn Belle added that magistrates are given guidance on how to conduct the initial inquiries in an informal and child-friendly manner.