Youth courts in England and Wales are becoming choked with school disciplinary problems, neighbourhood disputes and minor criminal damage cases because the police have lost the discretion to deal with them elsewhere, the home secretary, John Reid, has been warned.

Rod Morgan, chairman of the Youth Justice Board, said there had been a sharp rise in the proportion of children who are being prosecuted instead of being dealt with by informal means. "Ten years ago, two-thirds of children and young people were dealt with pre-court. Today only half are dealt with this way," he said.

Professor Morgan said schools and children's homes were no longer dealing with some disciplinary problems themselves but were reporting them to the police.
He said the police had no discretion if the incidents involved children who had already had a reprimand or a final warning under a "two strikes and you're out" rule: they had to be prosecuted in the youth court.

Prof Morgan is believed to have written to Mr Reid demanding that discretion over whether to deal with cases by informal means be restored to the police.

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