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Last Updated: Monday, 2 June, 2003, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Youth court opens doors - briefly
The court will handle persistent offenders
The court will handle persistent offenders
Scotland's first youth court providing fast-track procedures for persistent young offenders has briefly opened its doors for the first time.

The first session of the court in Hamilton lasted barely five minutes when one of the accused failed to turn up.

The pilot project is expected to deal with about 120 cases a year of 16 and 17-year-olds who have committed three or more offences in the previous six months.

Offences carried out by young people have fallen in the last 10 years, despite the political rhetoric of recent months.

However, persistent offending by youngsters has been on the increase.

It is these cases - where a youngster has offended three times or more - which the new youth court will hear.

Cycle of offending

The sheriff will have a wide variety of sentences available, most designed to prevent the teenagers from committing further crimes.

As well as being able to impose custodial sentences, the sheriff will also be able to prescribe a wide range of non-custodial options, including electronic tagging orders, drug treatment programmes and community service orders.

The key aim of the court, which will deal with cases from north and south Lanarkshire, is to get youngsters to court quicker and break their cycle of offending.

Under the fast-track system, young offenders will make their first appearance before the court within 10 days of being charged.

Even if they plead not guilty, the aim is to have the case concluded within 50 days - far faster than has been normal in the Scottish court system.

Breach of the peace

The pilot scheme will be based at Hamilton Sheriff Court for two years and may be extended if it is found to be a success.

On its opening day, just two cases were due to be heard by Sheriff Hugh Nielson.

The first accused, 17-year-old William Ramsey, pleaded not guilty to 14 separate charges, including assaulting two police officers and throwing a firework in the grounds of a Catholic church.

But the second accused, 16-year-old Martin Mair, did not turn up to answer a charge that he committed a breach of the peace and exposed himself to police in Calder Grove, Motherwell, on 26 May.

Sheriff Nielson immediately issued a warrant for Mair's arrest before closing the court and rising from the bench.

Scots Tory Deputy Justice Spokesman, Margaret Mitchell MSP, said that the court offered "a new scheme for fast track failure".

She said that 16, 17 and 18-year-olds should be in the adult court system.

"Then the Children's Hearing system would have the resources to deal with those it can help most - under 16s who are at most risk from entering a life of crime," she said.

BBC Scotland's Reevel Alderson
"The scheme got off to an inauspicious start"

Scots consulted on youth crime
25 Apr 03  |  Scotland
Youth court pilot scheme launched
27 Jan 03  |  Scotland
Youth courts plans unveiled
27 Jun 02  |  Scotland

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