We must adopt UN guidelines – Family Centre
A Supreme Court judgment highlighting the inconsistencies between how 16- and 17-year-old children are dealt with in criminal proceeding in Bermuda and internationally accepted standards has been welcomed by Family Centre.
The ruling by Chief Justice Ian Kawaley acknowledged that certain provisions of the Youth Offender’s Act (YOA) relating to child defendants were at odds with United Nations guidelines.
It has prompted the charity to call on the Bermuda Government to fully adopt the United Nations Convention Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Martha Dismont, Family Centre’s executive director, right, also urged Government to review and amend the relevant parts of the legislation.
“We further hope that Bermuda fully adopts the UN Rights of the Child manifesto, as a jurisdiction.
“Dame Jennifer Smith did acknowledge this convention back in 1998, and we should be embracing the recommendations, as a forward-thinking, caring community,” said Ms Dismont.
“The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and other international convening meetings have led the way in recommending changes to legislation based upon fundamental human rights for children.
“It becomes a ‘social justice’ issue when legislation is not appropriately considering the current challenges facing young people today, particularly where appropriate parenting has been lacking leading to antisocial behaviour, and other possible offences.
“Legislation should take in account the further harm that is done to youth by court systems which do not consider the required protections.”
Dr Justice Kawaley said certain parts of the YOA and the rules governing the way police treat child suspects were inconsistent with the UNCRC.
However, the Chief Justice ruled that the provisions did not breach the Bermuda Constitution after lawyer Saul Dismont challenged the legislation on behalf of two clients aged 16 and 17. He argued that the present legislation unfairly treated the teenagers as adults in criminal proceedings.
Ms Dismont added: “Youth who appear before the courts are very likely to have, in their short span of childhood, issues of neglect, parental substance abuse, sexual or physical abuse, poverty, and emotional trauma.
“Appropriate consequences should be meted out for any behaviour that is found to be criminal, but in a manner that considers the rights and best practices in dealing with young people.
“The Bermuda community is currently reeling from the ‘acting out’ behaviour of young people and adults who have histories of significant issues that we can’t begin to imagine.
Our legislation must be updated to support the critical practices necessary to protect children, and reverse the trajectory of harm.”
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