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Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002

Section 57: Youth conferences and youth conference plans

115.This section inserts new Article 3A into the 1998 Order, which makes general provisions about youth conferences. A youth conference is a meeting or series of meetings held to consider how a child ought to be dealt with for an offence (new Article 3A(1)). The meetings will be under the chairmanship of a person to be known as a youth conference co-ordinator (new Article 3A(2)(a)). This person will be given powers to run the meetings effectively (under rules to be made under new Article 3B) and the Secretary of State may set a time limit for completing the youth conference. The aim of the youth conference will be to devise a youth conference plan which will propose how the child should be dealt with (new Article 3C). The purpose of a youth conference plan is to require the child to carry out specified actions in order to make reparation for the offence, address the child's offending behaviour, and/or meet the needs of the victim. The content of the plan is for the youth conference to decide, from the various options listed in new Article 3C(1), such as apologising, making reparation, or participating in activities designed to address offending behaviour, offer education or assist with rehabilitation. The conference can propose any combination of these options it wishes. The plan must specify the period within which it must be completed, and this must not be more than one year (new Article 3C(4) and (5)).

116.There are three distinct groups of people who may be involved in a youth conference. The first is the core group without whom the youth conference cannot proceed. These are the youth conference co-ordinator, the child, a police officer and an “appropriate adult” (new Article 3A(2)). “Appropriate adult” means a parent or guardian of the child, but provision is made for the case where such a person is unable or unwilling to participate or the child is in care (within the meaning of the 1995 Order) (new Article 3A(4) and (5)). The second group are those who have a right to participate but in whose absence the youth conference may proceed. This group includes the victim of the offence (new Article 3A(6)). The final group are those who may participate or attend if the youth conference co-ordinator thinks that would be of value (new Article 3A(8)). This could include persons who play a significant role in the child’s life (such as a community or religious leader) or people who can provide support to the victim.

117.A key feature of youth conferences is that neither the child, his parents or guardians, nor the victim can be compelled by any person or the court to participate. In particular, the child must agree to a youth conference being held (new Article 10A(3)(b) (section 58) and new Article 33A(6) (section 59)) and must agree to the youth conference plan or the youth conference order (new Article 10C(1)(a) (section 57) and new Article 36J(5) (section 60)). Neither the fact that a child has made any admission to a Public Prosecutor or agreed to participate in a diversionary youth conference, or withdrawn such an admission or agreement (new Article 10B(2) (section 58), nor any matter relating to a youth conference (new Article 3A(9)) may be used in any subsequent criminal proceedings as evidence of the child’s guilt.

118.There are two distinct types of youth conference: diversionary youth conferences (section 58) and court-ordered youth conferences (section 59).

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