The Home Office has refused to consider redrafting its Offensive Weapons Bill with amendments suggested by magistrates and those working in the youth justice system who are worried about measures designed to prevent knife crime.
Sajid Javid's department was criticised for not consulting with the legal profession on introducing knife crime prevention orders (KCPO). Orders will be made when the court thinks they are necessary to protect the public and to prevent reoffending. Breaching the order, which can be imposed on children as young as 12, would be a criminal offence.
The Magistrates' Association worked with the Prison Reform Trust, Standing Committee on Youth Justice and the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers on amendments detailing how the orders should work in practice. These include requirements for what information a youth offending team (YOT) should include in reports to those applying for an order, ensuring the information is available to the court, and time limits for interim orders.
With the help of Labour's Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Frederick Ponsonby), the organisations hoped the amendments would be accepted at the bill's third reading in the House of Lords, which took place yesterday. However, Lord Ponsonby was informed the day before the reading that the amendments were unnecessary.
Baroness Williams of Trafford, who is responsible for Home Office business in the House of Lords, said the issues raised by the amendments 'are not unclear in the bill as it stands'.
Her letter stated that the Home Office thinks it is open to the court to require seeing the youth offending team's assessment, 'although this is not expressly stated in the bill'. A police requirement to consult with the YOT allows the two 'to agree how best to carry out this consultation and to reassure the court that the consultation has taken place', which the Home Office thinks is unnecessary to spell out in legislation. However, guidance will make clear that the department expects the police and Crown Prosecution Service to share with the court the outcome of any consultation with the youth offending team if requested. The message will also be reinforced during pilots.
The Home Office does not think an 'express power' for the court to directly consult youth offending teams is needed. Neither does it think legislation should require courts to receive evidence from the team on the suitability and enforceability of KCPO requirements for under-18s. On time limits for interim orders, the bill's approach 'provides flexibility'.
The Magistrates' Association said it was disappointed that the amendments will not be considered 'given the lack of opportunity to engage on the proposals for KCPOs'. It hopes the amendments will be put forward when the bill returns to the House of Commons.