Child Justice Bill to protect children who run afoul of the law
Minister of Home Affairs Wilfred Abrahams said yesterday in Parliament that the purpose of the Child Justice Bill, 2023 was to establish a modernised approach to handling children in conflict with the law.
Coming on the back of the Child Protection Bill, 2023 which was brought to the House of Assembly last week, Abrahams said that both pieces of legislation were aligned in their focus on protecting the nation’s children, above all else.
“This Bill seeks to do that (protecting the children) by establishing a system of assessment to ensure the child is properly assessed by a court in proportion to the offence committed,” said Abrahams, who led the debate.
“We establish a diversion mechanism which enables the court to remove the cases of children who are in conflict of law from formal court proceedings. It is also incumbent to ensure the children who require the care and protection which can better be dealt with under child protection are diverted to proceedings under the Child Protection Bill, 2023.”
The representative for Christ Church East added that if passed, the legislation would include different forms of sentencing for those requiring punishment.
“Community based sentencing, restorative justice sentencing and corrective supervision. There is also provision for the operation of secure residential facilities for the detention of children who have committed serious offences. There would also be the establishment of a reintegration board to facilitate the early release of a child from a secure residential facility.”
Abraham said that the board’s role was to reintegrate the child into their family, school and society on a whole at the earliest opportunity so that they can continue to be a productive member of society. The bill also seeks to involve parents and the community into the processes by way of family and group conferences.
He also believes that this Bill will correct the issues in the language which existed in the previous legislation, the Juvenile Offenders Act. It states in cap 138, section eight that “the court shall not render punishment for any offence to a child who is not, in the opinion of the court, above eleven years and of sufficient capacity to commit a crime”.
In his opinion, the ambiguity of the wording has led to situations where one would have to argue that the child had the requisite mental capacity to commit a crime or crimes despite their tender age, leading to interesting results in court.
“A crime has two components, the offending act which under the legislation constitutes a crime, but you must also have the mental ability or intention to commit a crime” he said. “If you accidentally do something and a crime results from it, but you were not negligent in doing it, then the court would likely find that you had no mental component to establish a crime.”
Abrahams concluded saying: “That poses an issue arguing as to what really is the appropriate age for criminal responsibility. Is it an age based solely on a number? Is it an age based on a combination of a number, maturity and Intelligence Quotient (IQ)? This legislation has changed that. Clause five states a child under the age of 12 is not capable of committing a criminal offence. There’s no ambiguity there. This is a brand new and critical addition to the legislation.”