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Jury still out on youth courts

Scotland may be progressive in its treatment of children and young people under the age of 16, but it still has a system that sees 16- and 17-year-old offenders tried in an adult court.

A pilot youth court set up at Hamilton Sheriff Court is currently under way, targeting 16- and 17-year-olds, and in some cases 15-year-olds, who have three separate incidents of offending within six months that result in a criminal charge.

Unlike the children's hearing system, the youth court sits decidedly in the judicial system, but its aim is not just punishment. It is also to head off a life of crime for these young people by dealing with their cases quickly, while promoting social inclusion, citizenship and personal responsibility.

"While punishment is a key part of the youth justice process, the problems that lead to crimes being committed in the first place must also be addressed," says Cathy Jamieson, the Justice Minister.

"We will not turn our backs on young people. We will give the chances to get their lives back on track."

Initially set up for two years, the pilot was extended last year, and another court introduced in Airdrie, but the Executive is still undecided on whether to roll the programme out to other parts of Scotland. Among children and young people's campaigners, there are mixed feelings.

"The jury is still out on the youth courts and we will be watching closely," says Tam Baillie, of Barnardo's Scotland.

"There is a possibility that a return to the old juvenile courts is always lurking in the background but we would resist it strongly."

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