MoJ would have found riots pressure 'impossible', claims YJB chair

Janaki Mahadevan
Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The chair of the Youth Justice Board has launched a blistering attack on the government's decision to axe the quango next April, claiming the Ministry of Justice would have found it "impossible" to handle the intense pressure on the youth justice system caused by the riots.

MoJ set to take charge of youth justice next year. Image: Ian Bottle
MoJ set to take charge of youth justice next year. Image: Ian Bottle

In an exclusive interview with CYP Now, Frances Done praised the work of youth offending teams and secure units in the aftermath of the violence. She called for the government to urgently reconsider its decision to abolish the YJB next year, when the MoJ is due to take charge of youth justice.

Speaking as the board delivered its response to the consultation on the Public Bodies Bill, Done said: "The youth justice system has been quite tested in the past few weeks and the sterling work of youth offending teams and our secure units, which have been under extreme pressure, have meant that we can handle the situation and learn from it.

"If the events of the past two weeks had happened with the youth justice function led from a government department, I don’t think it could have withstood the stress and the pressure.

"We could work so closely with the youth offending teams and our secure units because we are all youth justice people and we all know exactly how it all works. This cannot be sustained by civil servants, who have generalist functions – it is just impossible."

The YJB response said its establishment in 2000 brought "coherence to a complex and previously unco-ordinated youth justice system".

Citing reports from the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee, which recognised the progress made in the youth justice system, as well as the House of Lords opposition to the abolition of the YJB, the response said that the government must reconsider its decision and allow the YJB to continue its work in England and Wales.

It also criticised the government for failing to demonstrate robust evidence of the reasons behind the abolition of the body.

Done said: "The decision was taken in haste following the election. There had been a decision that all arm's length bodies would be assessed by the same tests and quite honestly the tests were found wanting. They don’t apply to a leadership body like ours.

"In our response to the consultation we are explaining the difference made by having an organisation that is full of practitioners with very focused frontline experience of youth justice led by a board with a huge range of experience. We are being quite blunt in saying that a government department can’t do that."

Done said she was confident that Justice Secretary Ken Clarke remained "open-minded" and called upon all those in the youth justice sector to put forward the case to retain the YJB as a separate arm's length body before the consultation closes in October.

"We are showing results but there is still so much to do as there is still concern about youth crime in most communities," Done added. "Until that is no longer an issue we need to just get on with it."

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "The government is absolutely committed to tackling youth crime and improving the youth justice system.

"The recent riots have highlighted that it is ministers and not an unelected body that should be responsible for overseeing the delivery of youth justice. By bringing youth justice in-house the government will be able to deliver core work in a way that is more efficient and directly accountable to ministers.

"We will carefully consider the YJB's response to the Public Bodies Bill before any reform is made."

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