The Children Act 2001
The main legislation covering children and the criminal justice system is the Children Act 2001. This Act focuses on preventing criminal behaviour, diversion from the criminal justice system and rehabilitation. The use of detention for a child is to be a last resort: the Act requires that all avenues be explored before it is used.
The main principles of the Children Act are:
• Any child who accepts responsibility for his/ her offending behaviour should be diverted from criminal proceedings, where appropriate.
• Children have rights and freedoms before the law equal to those enjoyed by adults and a right to be heard and to participate in any proceedings affecting them.
• It is desirable to allow the education etc. of children to proceed without interruption.
• It is desirable to preserve and strengthen the relationship between children and their parents/ family members.
• It is desirable to foster the ability of families to develop their own means of dealing with offending by their children.
• It is desirable to allow children to reside in their own homes.
• Any penalty imposed on a child should cause as little interference as possible with the child’s legitimate activities, should promote the development of the child and should take the least restrictive form, as appropriate.
• Detention should be imposed as a last resort and may only be imposed if it is the only suitable way of dealing with the child.
• Due regard to the interests of the victim.
• A child’s age and level of maturity may be taken into consideration as mitigating factors in determining a penalty.
• A child’s privacy should be protected in any proceedings against him/ her.