Mooting youth justice and conflict transformation
by Sophie AUMAILLEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
5 October 2016
A lecture was organised by the School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast sought to address the impact of youth justice and conflict transformation.
Dr Nicola Carr, lecturer in Criminology at Queen’s University of Belfast, and Paddy Mooney, Director of Include Youth, introduced the seminar.
They emphasised the recent changes in Northern Ireland’s youth justice system, with the newly elected Northern Ireland Assembly, a new Justice Minister, and a new judicial framework.
They stressed the impact of the broad social and economic context on children.
They expressed the over-representation of young people from deprived areas within the justice system.
Finally, they were concerned about the inappropriate use of custody to deal with young people.
The first part of the conference was an exposition of the Scottish youth justice model by Professor Lesley McAra, Chair of Penology in the University of Edinburgh.
She sought to draw lessons from Scotland, to make better progresses in Northern Ireland.
Her review of the Scottish youth justice system showed a constant renewal of frameworks and standards there going along with changes of governments, all of which increase its complexity and comprehension.
Prof. McAra worried about such dynamism taking place in Northern Ireland, post 2010, and expressed two main concerns about the current youth justice framework.
First, Scotland (and Northern Ireland) shows systematic violations of human rights, among them, discrimination, police abuses and child poverty.
She felt that politicians are more focused on electoral perspectives rather than creating youth justice that is adapted to the needs of children.
Her second concern was the potential lessening of human rights protections, with the planned negotiations of the United Kingdom’s leaving the European Union.
She worried that national standards and accountability of human rights will be lessened in the UK.
Prof. McAra concluded by acknowledging that the key lesson to learn from Scotland is to place children at the centre of justice reforms.
She added that giving voice and participation to young people cannot be reduced to just letting them speak, but should also enable them to understand the justice framework to which they belong.
The second part of the conference consisted of a presentation by Koulla Yiasouma, appointed as Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People in 2015.
She exposed the current state of young people’s condition in Northern Ireland.
Yiasouma underlined the important problem of child poverty, which is particularly static in Northern Ireland.
She also emphasised the concerning rate of children suffering from mental health issues.
Finally, she stressed the remaining problems of paramilitary activities, putting vulnerable children at risk.
Under the current youth justice framework, national laws have been balanced with international standards, and Koulla Yiasouma welcomed the progresses made by the Youth Justice Review of 2011.
As with Prof. McAra, Yiasouma accentuated the importance of prioritising the effects of our justice system on children and young people.
Reports for Northern Ireland show that much progress is required in this regard.
She felt that change is on the way, with an increasing awareness of children as a priority.
To conclude, Koulla Yiasouma mooted how to balance the desire for an efficient justice system while addressing the complex needs of young people.