Understanding the Law
June 5, 2009
Children in Conflict with the Law Pt:2

Last week we focused on children in conflict with the law under the OECS Bill. We look at other aspects of the bill this week.

When a child commits an offence, he may be apprehended, summoned or be notified in a written notice by a police officer. But before the officer does any of the above, he must consult with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).{{more}} Thereafter the police officer must contact a probation officer to conduct an assessment. The mode of taking the child into custody would be consistent with the seriousness of the crime. A police officer shall not apprehend a child under the age of twelve years who is alleged to have committed a crime, but must take the child to a safe place if the officer has reason to believe that it is necessary to do so and must inform the probation officer about the child.

After an assessment is conducted, depending on the result, the child will have to appear before the Child Justice Committee for an initial enquiry. This is equivalent to a preliminary enquiry under the Criminal Procedure Act. The initial enquiry is to determine whether the child could be put through diversion options rather than the formal procedure of the court.

What constitutes diversion?

Diversion provides options for the child to perform without having to endure the heavy hand of the law. The Bill identifies eight purposes of diversion, and among them are to prevent the child from being stigmatized and from having a criminal record. On the other hand, it gives an opportunity for the child to be reintegrated into his or her family and community and to encourage him or her to be accountable for the harm he has caused.

The Levels of Diversion

There are three levels of diversion options ranging from the mild to more serious. Level one could start with a simple apology either oral or written to a specified person. The child could be required to undergo counseling or therapy for a period not more than three months. The options could also take the form of compulsory school attendance or some form of restitution to the victim. The child could also be given a good behavior order.

Level two requires the child to perform an option for a maximum of six months. This could be attendance at a vocational facility or the performance of community service. Level three may include some of the options required under levels one and two but for a period not exceeding one year.

If no recommendation for diversion was made, then the child must appear for trial in Court. His parents or an appropriate adult could provide for legal representation. If this is not done then the State may provide for this if the child is in detention pending the trial in Court or it is likely that a residential sentence may be imposed if found guilty.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com