3 The Proposals for Juvenile Panels
The Kilbrandon Committee recommended that entirely new arrangements were required to deal with all children in need and that a special treatment agency or panel was necessary, which would be neither a court of law nor a local authority committee.
The panel would be essentially a lay body, comprising persons who either by knowledge or experience were considered to be specially qualified to consider children's problems. This was a model on which none of the then current systems of juvenile justice was based. The panel would have powers of compulsory action and the power to modify or vary measures appropriate to the individual child.
What distinguished panels from the juvenile courts then in existence was the manner in which the powers would be exercised. The criterion for action would be the child's need for special measures of education and training. The panel's jurisdiction would be founded on grounds where the basic facts were agreed or accepted, with disputed matters being referred to a sheriff for adjudication.
Panels would be empowered to exercise a continuing jurisdiction over all children referred to them subject only to a statutory age limit. Within that period, they would have the widest discretion to alter, vary or terminate measures initially applied in the light of the child's progress and response.
Rights of Appeal
As the proposed powers represented a substantially greater measure of intervention in the lives of the families affected by them, a right of appeal to the appropriate judicial authority would be available.
Whenever possible, informal or voluntary supervision or assistance within the local community should be used so that only in the most problematic cases would compulsory supervision be required. If they were, the juvenile panels would have the widest discretion to vary treatment measures, including the power to remove a child from home.
The Crown's Right to Prosecute
The Crown retained overriding discretion to prosecute in exceptionally serious matters. Otherwise, the prosecution of all children under the age of sixteen would be removed from the jurisdiction of the criminal courts. The Committee recommended the abolition of the minimum age of eight as the age from which a child might be held to be responsible for criminal actions.
Appointment of Panels
It was recommended that panels in each education area should be appointed by the sheriff and panel members would receive appropriate instruction and training. This would include the opportunity to meet periodically at conferences at national level to provide both basic information and wider interchange of ideas and experience among members of the panels. In some of the largest urban areas, it was thought it might be appropriate to have full-time salaried chairmen of juvenile panels.
The premises used for sittings of the panels should be apart from, and entirely unconnected with, the criminal courts and police stations. Although it was appreciated that hours of sitting would be a matter for local arrangement, the Committee expressed the hope that, bearing in mind the desirability of securing both parents' attendance, there would be evening sittings and, in some cases, Saturday sittings.
Referrals to Panels: the role of the reporter
Referrals to the panel would be at the instance of an independent official to be known as the reporter. As this official would act as gatekeeper to the system, it was thought that reporters should be competent to assess both the legal issues and also the wider question of public interest. A legal qualification, as well as a period of administrative experience, relating to child welfare and educational service, were relevant requirements. In addition to handling referrals, reporters would have administrative responsibility for the general ordering of the panels' business, and would also act as clerks to the panels.
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