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Thursday, December 12, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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CJ: T&T needs specialised courts for young offenders
T&T’s criminal justice system falls short of international standards and lacks specialised juvenile courts and widespread diversionary and rehabilitative programmes specifically targeted at young offenders. Making the statement was Chief Justice Ivor Archie at yesterday’s youth justice symposium at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port-of-Spain. In the criminal arena, the administration of juvenile justice directly affects the rights and protection of young offenders, Archie said.
In 1991, T&T ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which encourages “the establishment of laws, procedures, authorities and institutions specifically applicable to children alleged as, accused of, or recognised as having infringed the penal law,” but this was where the country’s justice system was lacking, the CJ said.
He also made mention of the 2011 report of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative juvenile justice assessment produced for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which found that while there was active reform to “transform the system from its current retributive focus to one that was juvenile-focused and guided by the principles of restorative justice,” the current system in T&T remained “steeped in traditional punitive norms.”
“Areas of concern identified include the retention of certain sentencing options such as corporal punishment or imprisonment, beyond control provisions―which separate the child from the family unit rather than provide for parental training and retooling," Archie said.
He said other issues included social service systems which are segregated from a court system, inappropriate infrastructure intended to serve as detention centres, inadequate provision of centres for female juveniles, who were often housed with adult female offenders and the unavailability of professionals to adequately treat with the psychological needs of the young offender. These factors, the CJ added, are inextricably linked to the just treatment of young offenders by the courts and the criminal justice infrastructure.
“With the right support and guidance, however, young men and women have the potential to end anti-social behaviour and to ensure their effective rehabilitation and reintegration as reformed members of the society,” Archie said. He said in keeping with its informal mandate to protect children’s rights, the judiciary has embarked on several initiatives to improve the delivery of juvenile justice.
These included a partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) for the development of a juvenile justice project. Under the project, Archie said, two juvenile courts would be established which would treat with infractions committed by young people between seven and 17, with discretion remaining with the magistrate to transfer appropriate cases to the Family Court.
“The project will also develop court-annexed diversionary programmes to create sentencing options such as community service, in the hope of reducing recidivism. Additionally, as part of that project, rules of court are to be developed as a means of ensuring consistent and congruous practice before the juvenile courts by all stakeholders,” Archie added. He said a novel element of the juvenile justice project was the establishment of a youth court as distinct from a juvenile court.
The youth court involves peer advocacy and peer sentencing under the supervision of judicial officers, attorneys and social workers, Archie added. “It is hoped the youth court will foster a greater sense of responsibility among young persons, leadership qualities and the use of positive peer pressure towards reformation of youth who exhibit deviant behaviour. “It is anticipated that it would operate in respect of minor offences only,” Archie said.
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