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Tuesday 23rd of January 2018

Press Room

IJJO Interviews- Barry Goldson, Charles Booth Chair of Social Science, University of Liverpool

Wednesday 10th of January 2018 | Europe, United Kingdom

Professor Barry Goldson PhD holds the Charles Booth Chair of Social Science at the University of Liverpool, UK. He is also: Visiting Professorial Research Fellow at the Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; Professorial Fellow in Social Science at Liverpool Hope University, UK; and Adjunct Professor at the School of Justice, QUT, Brisbane, Australia. He is the Chairperson of the British Society of Criminology Youth Criminology/Youth Justice Network (YC/YJN) and Co-Chairperson of the European Society of Criminology Thematic Working Group on Juvenile Justice (TWGJJ).

Professor Goldson, who is an academic member of the European Council for Juvenile Justice, has researched and published extensively. His most recent books include: Youth Crime and Juvenile Justice; Youth in Crisis? ‘Gangs’, Territoriality and Violence; Youth Crime and Justice, 2nd edition and Justice and Penal Reform: Re-shaping the penal landscape.

He is currently working on three further books that will be published in 2018 and 2019: Juvenile Justice in Europe: Past, Present and Future (2018); Youth Justice and Penality in Comparative Context (2018) and Re-imagining Juvenile Justice (2019). Professor Goldson is networked across the international research community and he also has long-standing relations with a range of national and international governmental and non-governmental, human rights and progressive penal reform organisations.


You have researched how international human rights standards apply to juvenile justice systems in the UK. In your view, which areas of the UK systems are currently most in need of improvement in this regard?

Yes, that is true. I have longstanding research interests that relate to the interface between international human rights standards and juvenile justice law, policy and practice, both in UK jurisdictions and elsewhere. Indeed, much of my work has drawn attention to a curious paradox. On the one hand, each of the States Parties within the UK has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child together with a range of related international human rights standards that have a direct bearing on juvenile justice. On the other hand, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has persistently drawn attention to the violations of children’s human rights within juvenile justice systems in the UK.

Perhaps such violations are most conspicuous within the realms of penal detention. But it is not only the practices of child imprisonment that are problematic. In fact, my most recent work in this area draws attention to end-to-end human rights violations across juvenile justice systems including: policing practices; incursions imposed on children’s freedom of movement and association; the inappropriate nature of the courts and judicial proceedings; the extent to which children’s privacy is compromised and/or the degree to which their futures are blighted and adversely stained by criminal records. So, all areas of the juvenile justice system require fundamental reform if they are to comply with the international standards. A good starting point would be to raise the very low minimum age of criminal responsibility.

Your article ‘Juvenile justice, young people and human rights in Australia’ discusses “substantive and procedural human rights violations affecting young people in juvenile justice, many of which fall disproportionately on two over-represented groups: Indigenous young people, and those with mental health disorders and cognitive disability”. What needs to change in order to better protect the rights of these two disproportionately represented groups?

Yes, that article was published in a recent issue of the journal Current Issues in Criminal Justice. The disproportionate and enduring criminalisation of Indigenous children in Australia is, quite frankly, staggering. This is arguably most problematic in respect of the extreme over-representation of Indigenous children in penal custody. Nationally, Indigenous children constitute over half of the child prisoner population, making them 24 times more likely than white children to be incarcerated. Equally, children with mental health disorders, cognitive disabilities and complex needs face hugely disproportionate prospects of criminalisation and penal detention. With colleagues, I have argued that this amounts to ‘cruel and unusual punishment’. Such profound and systemic injustices require urgent attention.

The undue and unjust criminalisation of Indigenous children and those with complex needs has no place in any society that claims to be civilised. Such phenomena are not limited to Australia of course. Racism and disablism are common features of so-called ‘justice’ systems around the world. Root and branch reform of juvenile justice is required at a global level. I expect that the recently announced UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty will help us to understand ‘what needs to change’.

You are in the process of editing a book on the evolution of juvenile justice systems in Europe. In your view, are these systems successfully evolving towards a more child-friendly approach to juvenile justice, in line with international standards? What are the main obstacles to achieving this goal?

The movement towards ‘child friendly justice’ that is being driven by the Council of Europe is enormously important and the ‘Guidelines for Child Friendly Justice’ that were formally adopted by the Committee of Ministers in 2010 are pivotal. Equally, notwithstanding widespread violations of children’s human rights, the international standards provide very strong foundations upon which to build. In this sense it would be quite wrong to under-estimate the enormous efforts that are being directed towards the ‘child-friendly justice’ project. But we must also continue to take a long hard look at the available evidence and we can’t afford to be complacent.

The gross over-representation of the most disadvantaged children in juvenile justice systems across Europe and elsewhere, as signaled above, provides some sense of the obstacles towards realising the ultimate goal. Personally, I do not feel defeated by this. Rather I feel energised. We all need to continue our work, with renewed effort, towards the faithful and uncompromising implementation of international standards. Without such determined collective endeavour we will never provide true justice for children in conflict with the law.

In your book Re-Imagining Juvenile Justice, which will be published in the next year or so, you aim to ‘re-imagine’ some of the main concepts in the juvenile justice field. Which concepts do you think are most in need of being reconceptualised, and why?

This is a massive question. In fact, completing my book has been delayed, not least due to the enormity of the very same question! But if our aim is to provide responses to children in conflict with the law that take proper account of the human rights issues that we have been discussing whilst, at the same time, meeting the public interest by providing for crime reduction and community safety, we can’t afford to continue to rely on juvenile justice systems that are repeatedly shown to be unfit for purpose.

For the best part of two hundred years we have essentially produced and reproduced failing systems. So, the ‘re-imagining’ project aims to unsettle otherwise settled ways of thinking about, and responding to, children in conflict with the law. Fundamental and ambitious forms of reconceptualisation are imperative. Many colleagues around the world – researchers, policy-makers, practitioners and otherwise concerned people – are determined to drive this agenda forward. For my part, I need to get on and finish writing the book!


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