More than 100 academics, rights activists and those working with and for children and young people in conflict with the law gathered at Queen's University Belfast today for a seminar critically examining the state of youth justice in Northern Ireland.
Jointly organised by the Interdisciplinary Research Group on Youth, Conflict and Justice at Queen's and Include Youth and funded by the Senator George Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice, the event focused on three themes: youth and social justice; youth justice and conflict transformation; and the implications of devolution.
Speaking at the event Dr Nicola Carr, from Queen's University Belfast, said:
“The devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2010 and the appointment of a Justice Minister opened the possibility for a fresh look at youth justice - to develop a more tailored response to the local context recognising the impact of the legacy of conflict and the continued out-workings in people’s every day lives. In some respects Northern Ireland has carved quite a distinct pathway in respect of its youth justice system – the centrality of restorative justice is often cited. However, we know that there are issues regarding the extent of the system’s reach – not least the continued low age of criminal responsibility and the fact that many so-called ‘diversionary’ disposals result in a criminal record.
Paddy Mooney, Director of Include Youth said:
"While we acknowledge that the system has gone some way to improving how we deal with children and young people, we continue to see looked after children over represented in the youth justice system and remain concerned about the inappropriate use of custody, in particular for those with complex needs.
"Today's discussion aims to revitalise and renew our shared commitment to putting children's best interests at the heart of our youth justice system, not just in principle but in demonstrable practice and concrete actions."
Professor Lesley McAra, from the University of Edinburgh, and Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, delivered keynote addresses followed by an expert panel debate with representatives from the Youth Justice Agency, PSNI and children's rights NGOs.
Pictured L-R: Dr Nicola Carr, Prof. Lesley McAra, Koulla Yiasouma, Dr Clare Dwyer, Dr Paula Rodgers and Dr Siobhán McAlister