NI: Youth Engagement clinics keeping NI young people out of court

Justice Minister David Ford

The roll-out of Youth Engagement (YE) clinics across Northern Ireland is helping to keep young people out of court, Justice Minister David Ford has told MLAs.

YE clinics were rolled out across all Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) districts last year following a successful pilot in Belfast.

The clinics, drawing on the principles of the ‘triage’ model in parts of England and Wales, aim to provide young people accused of an offence with additional support at an early stage to help them make an informed decision about their options.

The concept was developed by the PSNI and the Youth Justice Agency (YJA) in partnership with the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in order to improve processing times in youth cases.

Earlier engagement with young offenders is thought to reduce the number of cases which progress to court only to be withdrawn for a diversionary disposal to be administered. This creates capacity within the youth court to dispose of the remaining caseload more quickly.

Responding to a question in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr Ford said: “Since the roll-out of Youth Engagement Clinics across Northern Ireland, indications are that youth cases dealt with at Clinics are resolved far more quickly than those which progress to court. This means that the negative consequences of delay in our justice system for both victims and offenders can be reduced.

“Youth Engagement Clinics can help young people make better informed decisions about their options at an early stage by providing advice and support in both a language and setting which is appropriate to their age and level of understanding.

“Participation in the Clinics has helped each young person to take responsibility for, and understand, the consequences of their actions. More importantly, it allows them to get appropriate support to address the underlying causes of their offending behaviour and move on with their lives. There is clear evidence that the more we do to prevent young people entering the justice system, the better their long term outcomes.

“During 2014/15, of the 355 young people who attended a Clinic, 95 per cent accepted a diversionary disposal, such as informed warnings or cautions. Provisional figures for the first six months of this year show around 540 children already engaged in this process. This is a clearly preferable path compared to court.”

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