Youth Justice System
The statutory aim of the Youth Justice system in Northern Ireland is to protect the public by preventing offending and re-offending by children.
A child is defined as being anyone under the age of 18, although unless they are over 10 years of age (the age of criminal responsibility) they cannot be charged with an offence. If found guilty by a youth court (or sometimes for very serious offences, by the crown court), a child can be sentenced to any one of a range of options from conditional discharge or fines, through community sentences and even to custody. The Youth Justice Agency is the lead agency in these matters in Northern Ireland.
The Justice (NI) Act 2002 introduced a range of innovative new measures for dealing with children who offend, the most significant being youth conferencing which is based upon inclusive restorative justice principles. This operates both as an alternative to prosecution or as a court-ordered process and allows children to take responsibility for their actions, gives victims an opportunity to say how they have been affected and results in an agreed plan to redress the harm done.
Both pre-court diversionary youth conferencing (operated by the Public Prosecution Service) and the youth diversion scheme (operated by the PSNI) are aimed at preventing children from re-offending and moving further into the justice system. In addition, a number of statutory and voluntary bodies operate early intervention programmes to try to prevent children at risk of offending from doing so. This co-operation across the sector has been formalised in a Charter for Youth Justice.
The Charter sets out a series of statements which describe the type of system we aspire to, the principles of how this might be achieved, and priorities for collective action. It is intended to provide a flexible framework within which we can all operate to a common end.
Much of the work done by Northern Ireland Departments in delivering on the 10 year Children's Strategy will also help to reduce offending, promote social inclusion and lead to better outcomes for all children in Northern Ireland.