Report by Maggie Atkinson includes criticism of guidelines allowing courts to identify youths involved in summer riots
England's children's commissioner has expressed concerns over guidelines allowing courts to identify young offenders involved in the summer riots, warning this could affect their safety and hurt their adult lives.
Maggie Atkinson urged the government to issue a blanket reporting ban on revealing the names of children facing prosecution as part of a series of human rights recommendations that included using jail only as a "last resort" for young people.
Atkinson, who created controversy last year by commenting that the killers of James Bulger had been too young to stand trial for his murder, also told ministers they should make smacking children illegal in England, in line with a similar move already adopted in Wales. Her report, issued to coincide with the 20th anniversary of UN conventions being adopted, urged them to act on child poverty and extend equality laws to protect children.
The commissioner told ministers that laws allowing children put on trial for serious offences to be named and picture were inappropriate. She criticised the Crown Prosecution Service's recommendations to lift reporting bans on young offenders involved up in "extensive public disorder" such as the looting and violence that swept major English cities in August.
"We are extremely concerned at the effect that the identification of children in trouble with the law may have on their safety and life chances," her report said. "We recommend that the government prohibit the reporting of details that may identify any child involved in criminal proceedings at any stage of those proceedings."
The report said that although fewer young people were being sentenced to jail in England and Wales, it was disappointing that the country still has one of the highest child incarceration rates in western Europe. "We therefore recommend that the government implement the principle in Article 37 UNCRC that a child shall only ever be arrested or put in prison as a last resort and for the shortest possible time," it said.
The children's commissioner urged the government to repeal the "reasonable punishment" defence open to parents and foster carers, effectively allowing corporal punishment in the home. She said children must be granted "the same protection from violence as adults".
The report also criticised the government's commitment to eradicate child poverty, saying the failure to allocate sufficient financial resources meant that 2010 reduction targets set under Labour had not been achieved and child poverty was likely to increase by 2020.