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England and Wales


Shifts in the justice system for children in trouble with the law have, at least, two dimensions, which are related but also enjoy a certain autonomy. Legislative change determines the parameters within which children who offend are processed and impacts on the treatment of children who offend. That impact is however mediated by policy and practice which, while being influenced by statutory provisions, can also operate relatively independently of them. The criminal justice landscape for children in England and Wales has in recent decades been characterized by extensive movement in both of these dimensions and the pace of change is such that analysis of the ‘system’ requires regular revision.

Less than a decade ago, Graham and Moore (2008) noted that the orthodoxy of the 1980s, predicated on an assumption that children should be diverted from formal criminal justice processes wherever possible, had rapidly given way to the opposite prevailing view, namely, that early intervention was required to ‘nip offending in the bud’ (Home Office 1997). The latter perception was enshrined in New Labour’s Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (CDA) whose restructuring of the youth justice system was sufficiently radical to lead commentators to designate the consequent arrangements as a ‘new youth justice’ (Goldson 2000).

In fact, the Act tended to reinforce increasingly punitive and interventionist trends that had emerged in the early part of the decade under the previous Conservative administration rather than promoting a sudden disjuncture on implementation (Bateman 2015a). In this instance, legislation effectively caught up with policy and practice. Moreover, the more recent period, from around 2008 onward, has seen a marked reversion to a strong preference for diversion over formal intervention (see for instance, Smith 2014), providing further evidence for

T. Bateman (*)

Department of Applied Social Studies, University of Bedfordshire, Park Square, Luton LU1 3JU, UK e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

S.H. Decker, N. Marteache (eds.), International Handbook of Juvenile Justice, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-45090-2_14

Bernard’s (1992) fruitful insight that juvenile justice tends to develop in cyclical form. But this turnaround was not predicated on any particular legislative amendment. In this instance, policy and practice developed independently of the statutory framework.

The abandonment and subsequent discovery of diversion has taken place against the working out of another profound change in the arrangements for dealing with children in trouble. From the establishment of a separate court for children in 1908 up until 1989, children in conflict with the law and those in need of care and protection had both been processed within the single jurisdiction of the juvenile court. The Children Act of 1989 introduced a legal separation between these two populations so that matters relating to care would be dealt with in a new family proceedings court (now the family court), effectively severing the structural link between welfare and justice (Curtis 2005). The Criminal Justice Act 1991completed the transformation through the abolition of the juvenile court (which had continued to deal with crime) and its replacement by the youth court (Cadman 2005). From this point, talk of ‘juvenile justice’ was swiftly supplanted by references to ‘youth justice,’ and the former expression no longer had any currency in the jurisdiction. (The current chapter largely adopts the terminology of ‘youth justice’ in conformity with common usage.) The rekindling of a diversionary impulse has accordingly emerged in a rather different context from that in which it previously held sway, leading some commentators to reflect that diversion may have different connotations to those that were associated with it during the 1980s (Kelly and Armitage 2015).

The current system in England and Wales is thus constituted by a dynamic interplay between policy and practice and the legislative framework, resulting in considerable fluidity. The coming period is likely to herald further change. In September 2015, the Ministry of Justice announced a review of the youth justice system to report mid-2016 (Gove 2015). At the time of writing, the outcome is unknown, but it will in all probability lead to substantial revision of the legislative provisions and organizational frameworks described in this chapter.

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