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Last Updated: Friday, 9 July, 2004, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Positive report on youth courts
The Hamilton court used for the trial
The Hamilton court handles persistent young offenders
Scotland's pilot youth court system has received a favourable report in a study carried out at Stirling University.

Nearly 130 youths were seen at the court in Lanarkshire in the first six months of the scheme.

Ministers admit, however, that it is too early to say if it has helped to reduce reoffending.

The highly publicised experiment was set up at Hamilton Sheriff Court last year to target persistent offenders aged 16 and 17.

It aims to "fast track" them through the system more quickly and to break the cycle of crime.

The Scottish Executive said that offenders appear in court generally no later than 10 days after being charged. The pilot scheme has already been extended to Airdrie Sheriff Court.

The Stirling University report suggested "there was almost universal agreement that the early phase of the pilot was working effectively".

It is still too early to properly evaluate the court's effectiveness in reducing re-offending
Cathy Jamieson MSP
Justice Minister
Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said that if the system proved to be making a significant contribution to a safer, stronger Scotland it could also be introduced in other parts of the country.

"Today's report shows that it has made a promising start, that it is dealing with offenders quickly and that offenders are more readily taking responsibility for their actions," the minister said.

"We introduced the youth court pilot to deal with a particular group of offenders to deal with them swiftly and to provide some respite for their beleaguered communities.

"As would be expected, the first few months of the project has revealed areas for improvement but the benefit of a pilot scheme is that refinements can be made, procedures improved and lessons learned without impacting greatly on the operation of the court."

The minister admitted, though, that it is "still too early to properly evaluate its effectiveness in reducing re-offending".

When plans for the second court were revealed in January, Ms Jamieson pledged that the number of young people who will face the consequences of their actions through restorative justice will be doubled to 6,000.

Cathy Jamieson
Cathy Jamieson: "Not anti-young people"

Both the Scottish National Party and the Tories lined up to criticise the executive, claiming much more needed to be done.

SNP justice spokeswoman Nicola Sturgeon said more secure accommodation places were needed for persistent young offenders.

She added: "Many children are being seriously let down by the system.

"Hundreds are not getting the level of service required if we are to maximise the chances that they will not reoffend."

Tory justice spokeswoman Annabel Goldie said a quick, effective youth justice system was essential in dealing with young offenders.

She added: "While the minister has gone some way towards explaining where improvements are being sought, there is clearly a great deal still to be done."

Ms Jamieson denied the moves, coupled with measures contained in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill to tackle young tearaways, meant the executive was "anti-young person".

Fiona Walker reports
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