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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

OP56. Child Defendants


Price: £7.50

Published: Mar 2006

Status: current

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Drawn up by a working party set up by the College, this report presents a balanced appraisal of the current situation involving child defendants from 10 years old upwards, who appear before criminal courts on a range of charges. It draws together relevant factors, including the present legal situation, both civil and criminal; human rights issues; the age of criminal responsibility; and psychological and mental health issues, as well as discussing alternative legal provisions for child defendants. The report does not set out to campaign to change the law. Rather, it focuses on issues that are relevant to psychiatrists, and about which it believes it would be helpful to provide the public and professionals with up-to-date information. Overall, the intention is to promote further discussion about the developmental, mental health and welfare needs of children who offend.
 
The report identifies several key issues relating to child defendants that merit further attention. These include: age of criminal responsibility; human rights; assessment; coordination of the criminal and civil justice system; care planning; child protection investigation; training and accreditation for legal and court-based professionals; training and accreditation for child care workers, child psychiatrists and clinical psychologists; multidisciplinary training; and the child defendant user perspective.
 
The report makes 17 recommendations. These include:
 
  • A government-led process of consultation on the needs and human rights of child defendants to include the age of criminal responsibility.
  • Creating a Specialist Youth Court.
  • Treating children facing serious charges as 'children in need', and assessing these needs.
  • Ensuring implementation of appropriate treatment during the child's sentence.
  • Assessment by a clinical psychologist and a child psychiatrist of all child defendants facing serious criminal charges, based on an assessment procedure jointly agreed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the British Psychological Society.
  • Pre-trial therapy for all child defendants with treatable psychiatric disorders.
  • A child defendant's pack clarifying their human rights and the legal process in terms they can understand.
  • Training for all legal professionals working with children, providing accreditation for them to work with children facing criminal charges.
  • Training for all child care professionals, child psychiatrists and clinical psychologists working with child defendants, to include instruction in the relevant legal and forensic issues.
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