Cyprus Mail

New push to address delinquency

By Poly Pantelides

THE office of the Commissioner for Children’s Rights is looking to overhaul the justice system for minors aiming to create buffers to prevent and address delinquency before it becomes a criminal court matter.

Leda Koursoumba, who is also the law commissioner, said her office was preparing “ambitious legislation” to create a “child-friendly system treating minors as minors”. She made a point of referring to these efforts during a meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades this week when she delivered her 2012 annual report. This was in order to give the matter “its appropriate gravitas” she told state broadcaster CyBC.

Koursoumba has been advocating a change in legislation for years but a decade-long effort has so far stalled. A law proposal to regulate a number of issues dealing with minors has been gathering dust in parliament’s archives since 2003.

The person who submitted it, Ionas Nicolaou, was a deputy with the now-ruling party DISY and is now the justice minister. When the Cyprus Mail previously asked Nicolaou to explain the delay some two years ago, the then-opposition MP blamed past governments for inaction and other “more urgent” bills.

Koursoumba said in her annual report that more recent efforts from last year also failed, and so, she said, she undertook the commitment to prepare a new framework which will focus on prevention and on modernising the system to contemporary standards.

When a minor breaks the law “the goal is not to imprison the child for three or four years, creating a young adult who has been exposed to all crime [in prison],” Koursoumba said. The minimum age for prosecution was raised to 14 from 12 in 2006. In late 2011, police suggested changing the prosecution threshold back to 12 after a 13-year-old attacked a classmate. Koursoumba said then, just as she always has, that attributing criminal responsibility to children solved no problems and failed to address root causes.

The legislation her office is putting together, a “work in progress”, outlines a series of steps aiming to prevent children from imprisonment. To begin with, Koursoumba wants to see a series of programmes focusing on prevention. Beyond that there should be measures in place for minors exhibiting “anti-social behaviour” and if and when a minor breaks the law there should be other stages before a case reaches a court, she said.

And though there should be consequences for wrongful actions, those do not have to entail imprisonment but could instead involve say compulsory community service, Koursoumba added. Details are still sketchy and a bill would have to go through discussion in parliament that can see it come through in a different shape and form. But Koursoumba made special mention in her annual report of her call for juvenile courts. It remains to be seen whether austerity measures make costs prohibitive, but Koursoumba has got the ball rolling on a conversation she has been leading for year. “We cannot eradicate what we call youth delinquency if we do not have the right system in place…,” she said.

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