The measures, tabled as amendments to the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, would strengthen the powers of the courts by allowing them to:
- remand to secure accommodation young people who commit repeat offences on bail;
- give the courts the option of using electronic tagging for juveniles on bail; and
- allow juveniles remanded to local authority secure conditions also to be placed in secure training centres.
Mr Straw said: 'There have been a number of cases where young 'bail bandits' have
repeatedly committed offences when on bail. The courts currently lack the power to remand them to custody unless they commit a more serious offence, effectively allowing some persistent young offenders to 'thumb their noses' at the law.
'We must not forget just how damaging these so-called medium-level offences, such as theft, assault and criminal damage, can be to individual victims and the wider community. It is simply not acceptable that the courts have no powers to remand those juvenile offenders to custody even when they know there is a good chance that
they will go straight back to their old ways on bail.
'At the same time, tagging juveniles and strengthening bail as an alternative to custody would ensure that bail conditions imposed by the courts, for example to be at home in the evenings or stay away from their victim, could be enforced more effectively.
'Allowing those who have been remanded to local authority secure
accommodation also to be placed in secure training centres would increase flexibility in the placement of young people and allow us to make better use of juvenile secure accommodation.'
The government has also tabled two additional sets of amendments to the Bill today:
- giving the new Criminal Records Bureau the power to refuse applications from organisations or individuals to become registered bodies (and who would therefore have access to high-level police checks) if they appear to be bogus; and
- making clear that the Bill's provisions ensuring the retention of DNA and fingerprint samples would apply in respect of all such samples lawfully taken from suspects which are held on the day on which the provisions come into force.
This would to ensure consistency and avoid any doubt that the police and the courts could use valuable DNA evidence. Separate provisions relating to the taking of samples from volunteers are unaffected by this amendment.
1. The measures on juvenile offenders would apply to 12-16 year olds.
2. At present, juveniles can only be remanded in custody:
a. if charged with a serious offence (violent or sexual offences and those punishable with at least 14 years imprisonment in the case of adult offenders - this includes burglary in a dwelling); or
b. where they have a recent history of absconding from local authority non-secure accommodation while on bail and have been charged with, or convicted of, an imprisonable offence; and
c. the court must also be satisfied that only a secure remand is adequate to protect the public from serious harm from the alleged offender.
3. The new proposals:
a. would allow the courts to remand into custody 12-16 year olds who are charged with an imprisonable offence and have a recent history of committing or have been charged with imprisonable offences while on bail or on remand to local authority accommodation (replacing point b. above);
b. would also allow the courts to make a secure remand where it is satisfied that only a secure remand is adequate to prevent the commission of further imprisonable offences by the alleged offender (the court would be required to consider all the possible options, such as unconditional bail or supervised bail before deciding to
remand the young person to secure accommodation). This is in addition to the existing criteria at point c. above; and
c. would strengthen bail options by allowing the court to order tagging as an additional supervision measure (a new measure).
4. The provisions would allow those whom the courts remand to local authority secure accommodation (all 12-14 year olds, 15-16 year girls and 15 and 16 year old boys who are deemed to be vulnerable) to be placed in secure training centres at the request of the local authority and with the consent of the secretary of state.
At present, remanded juveniles may not be held in secure training centres which are currently used to accommodate only sentenced juvenile offenders. Allowing secure training centres to be used for juveniles on secure remand would allow greater flexibility in juvenile estate.
5. Adult offenders can be remanded to custody where they are charged with an imprisonable offence and the court has substantial grounds for believing they would abscond or commit an offence while on bail or interfere with witnesses or obstruct the course of justice, or where they have previously absconded while on bail and the court believes they would do so again.
6. The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) will start issuing the higher levels of certificates later this year. Registered bodies will have access to the higher level police checks for individuals working with children and vulnerable adults. At present the CRB has no power to reject applications that may be malicious or from criminals.
7. DNA and fingerprint samples can be taken from anyone suspected of a recordable offence. At present, those samples have to be removed from the National DNA database if the individual is found not guilty or if proceedings are discontinued.
Following recent court cases where compelling DNA evidence was ruled inadmissible, the Criminal Justice and Police Bill would allow all samples taken lawfully from a
suspect to be retained indefinitely.