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Youth justice in the UK: children, young people and crime
Youth justice in the UK: children, young people and crime

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4 Wales makes a difference?

This is a map of Wales with the different regions labelled.
Figure 4 A map of Wales.

England and Wales have the same criminal justice system but successive moves towards devolution have widened differences between the two jurisdictions. In Wales all children and young person related services (e.g. Children’s Services, Education, Health and Housing) are devolved to the Welsh Government with the exception of youth justice. The Welsh Government’s formal adoption of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) resulted in the incorporation of the convention into its domestic legislation. In youth justice this has led to practice and policy that emphasises children’s rights and entitlement to various services. It has become known as a ‘children first, offenders second’ approach. This contrasts with the practice and policy enshrined in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 that emphasises the management of risks – the risk of children offending, the risk they pose to themselves and others, as well as risks of neglect.

The activities in this section help you to appreciate these differences and consider their implications.

Activity 4 The Swansea Bureau

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes for this activity

Some of the developments in youth justice in Wales have been built on evidence and practice developed in a pioneering project based in Swansea called ‘the Swansea Bureau’.

Read this short account of its work and then answer the questions that follow.

Swansea Bureau - Pre Court Diversion Model [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]









The correct answer is c.


children’s rights


restorative justice


needs-led theory


procedural justice


punitive protection


pre-emptive punishment

The correct answers are a, b and c.


Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012


Crime and Disorder Act 1998


Criminal Justice Act 2003

The correct answer is a.


The work of the Swansea Bureau is interesting because it is an example of how a small scale local development had wider significance. By showing how a diversionary approach developed by practitioners working with academics could address children’s needs, they won wider support for making children’s rights more central than children’s offending. The Swansea Bureau linked practice to the Welsh Government’s rights-based ‘Extending Entitlements’ youth policy. Significantly, this meant that rather than simply holding children and their parents to account for their behaviour, local services that had a responsibility to support young people could also be held to account.

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 covered England and Wales as if they were one place, but the pace of change and patterns of divergence from the system continue – as you will explore in the next activity.

Activity 5 The Commission on Justice in Wales

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes for this activity

In 2018 a Commission on Justice in Wales was launched. The Commission examined all aspects of criminal justice, including youth justice. It offered The Welsh Government and other stakeholders in Wales an opportunity to make the case for changes they would like to see in the way criminal justice operates in Wales.

Below is an edited extract of the submission by the Welsh Government that discusses youth justice.

Commission on Justice in Wales: Written evidence submitted by the Welsh Government

Read the extract and when you’ve finished make a note of what the acronyms ACE, ECM and LAC stand for.

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Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are increasingly recognised as propelling children into social- and self-destructive behaviour. Enhanced Case Management (ECM) builds from the recognition that such behaviours often arise from complex and entrenched difficulties that require a range of agencies and additional resources. Frequently both ACEs and ECM feature in the lives of Looked After Children (LAC). The common denominator in each of these terms is a focus on children as children. Their needs as children takes priority over their deeds as offenders, hence the phrasing that describes the Welsh approach – Children First, Offenders Second. The Commission weighed up the evidence presented to it by all the different stakeholders and the final report, published in October 2019, recommends the devolution of youth justice to Wales and raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12.

The impacts of developments in Wales are not confined to Wales. In the next section you will examine how the changes being developed in Wales might have implications for England, and elsewhere.