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"Impressive results" of Public Hall Enquiries defended after report

Thursday 16 December 2021

"Impressive results" of Public Hall Enquiries defended after report

Thursday 16 December 2021

The “impressive results” of Parish Hall Enquiries have been defended after publication of a report by the Children’s Commissioner containing critical comments about Centeniers and suggesting reform.

While welcoming the focus of the review, Probation Chief Mike Cutland said he could not agree with “anecdotal reports” about perceived discrimination towards foreigners.

Mr Cutland today shared his “reflections” on the review of the enquiry system – and specifically its compatibility with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - by Deborah McMillan.

After carrying out desk-based research and interviewing people involved with enquiries, including children, the Commissioner made a number of recommendations.

These include: 

  • a good practice guide on managing conflicts of interest, which incorporates the views of a wide range of stakeholders, must be developed for Centeniers and other officials involved in Parish Hall Enquiries. Centeniers should not preside over cases involving children or families who are known to them;
  • access to independent legal support should be provided whenever requested or deemed necessary;
  • a review should be undertaken to establish and define the role of the Probation and After-care Service in Parish Hall Enquiries;
  • there should be a training and skills of audit of all staff involved with Parish Hall Enquiries, including but not confined to Centeniers, Probation Officers and Honoary Police Officers. This must include safeguarding training, as well as training in other areas such as child development and attachment, and the UNCRC;
  • there must be a procedure that sets out the right to appeal the outcome of a Parish Hall Enquiries, and this must be explained as part of the PHE system;
  • a child or young person who attends a Parish Hall Enquiries should be given an adequate and timely opportunity to provide feedback on their experience.

Welcoming the “focus on the importance of children’s rights” in the review, Mr Cutland adds that Mrs McMillian’s report “makes some important recommendations about ongoing training, safeguarding policies and procedures.”

Mike Cutland.png

Pictured: Chief Probation Officer Mike Cutland.

He adds: “The [Probation] Service has arranged a meeting in the New Year to discuss the report with the Commissioner and clarify some of the points and recommendations contained in the report.”

Mr Cutland said that the review contained “some anecdotal reports” about perceived discriminatory practice towards foreigners and Centeniers not explaining decisions which he did not agree with.

He said: “This is certainly not the experience of the Probation Service who have found the overwhelming majority of Centeniers to be fair and genuine about trying to meet the best interests of children. 

“Indeed, Centeniers invariably listen carefully to information provided by Probation staff about children and families that will have been obtained prior to the Enquiry. 

“This information is used with sensitivity and care. Where the Probation Service has been concerned about any aspects of an enquiry these have been addressed appropriately.

“The experience of the Probation Service is that Centeniers will try to discuss, wherever possible, alternatives to formal prosecution with the child, their guardian and the probation officer attending the enquiry. 

“Very often a caution is sufficient but sometimes Centeniers encourage the child to engage in a restorative justice initiative whereby the rights of the victim are acknowledged and addressed.”

Deborah McMillan @OCCJersey

Pictured: Children's Commissioner Deborah McMillan.

Mr Cutland said that the report “highlighted some important recommendations for further discussion that are intended to lead to improvements”. 

He added: “The caution with any review is to ensure that the commentary is balanced, seen in context and also recognises positive aspects rather than risking adopting a ‘glass half empty’ focus that might demotivate and have a negative impact.

“There continues to be effective diversionary work undertaken at Parish Hall Enquiries. 

“In recognising the need to develop and modernise some practices it is also important to recognise the ethos, commitment and positive impact of an honorary system underpinned by an overwhelming aim to assist those children who attend Parish Hall Enquiries.”

Follow Express tomorrow for further analysis of the Children's Commissioner's report...

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