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Juvenile Court - Time to Give Way to the Family Court?

NCJ Number
FAMILY LAW Volume: 8 Issue: 3 Dated: (1978) Pages: 68-73
B Harris
Date Published
6 pages
Problems in the English juvenile court system stemming principally from the 1969 Children and Young Persons Act are discussed, followed by a proposal for magistrates' family court to handle the care and custody of children.
Many law enforcement and social work professionals feel that the act is an unsatisfactory compromise between a welfare and a penal approach to juvenile delinquency. The act reflected the philosophy that juvenile crime was merely a symptom of underlying social and economic disorders and that most offenders needed treatment from welfare services rather than punishment from the courts. Some key provisions of the act, however, have not been implemented; juvenile crime has continued to rise; and the act has been criticized by a House of Commons committee as being ineffective in differentiating between children who need care and the small minority who should be punished. The juvenile court has assumed welfare powers, notably the power to transfer parental rights to the local authority through care orders and to mandate counseling of the child. Surveys indicate that parents and children see the courts as retributive institutions and are confused as well as indignant when a child is removed from the home for treatment reasons. A child who is the subject of a criminal charge can be taken away from the parents on a care order without any of the judicial safeguards that are required in welfare proceedings. Furthermore, the treatment approach as exemplified in residential programs has not reduced recidivism among juvenile offenders. To separate civil welfare powers from criminal proceedings, proposals have suggested that care orders be transferred to the jurisdiction of courts that consider other matters concerning children and families. The High Court has created a Family Division but has neglected the magistrates' courts which already have a substantial domestic jurisdiction. Special panels of magistrates should be established to deal with all family cases, including custody, adoptions, care proceedings, and consents to marriage. The bench would consist of three trained judges with representatives from both sexes and would be advised by a qualified clerk. Strict regulations on admissions and press reporting would be enforced. Implementation of the Children Act 1975 will indicate such reforms by transferring adoption applications in magistrates' courts from the juvenile to the domestic proceedings courts. Finally, the age limit for criminal jurisdiction of the juvenile court should be lowered, possibly to age 14 years. The article includes 25 footnotes.


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