::: u.tv :::


09/06/2004 15:10
By: Press Association

Northern Ireland Criminal Justice Minister John Spellar was under fire today over his plans to introduce new laws on anti-social behaviour without proper consultation.

Politicians roundly condemned him and backed the Children`s Commissioner who has launched a legal bid to force further consultation.

Mr Spellar proposes bringing in Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBO`s) in a bid to deal with problems such as underage drinking and vandalism.

But he is doing so without a full Equality Impact Assessment - and critics say that goes against his own government`s legislation.

Children`s Commissioner Nigel Williams has sought a judicial review of the minister`s decision on the grounds that he does not think children and young people have been properly consulted.

He said if children as young as 10 were expected to understand an Anti-Social Behaviour Order, then they should be consulted on their introduction.

But Mr Spellar today accused Mr Williams , and the Human Rights Commission which also believes the measure is being rushed through without proper consultation, of being out of step with other bodies.

"Every local authority, i.e. the democratically elected bodies in Northern Ireland who have responded to us, all of those have come out in favour," he said.

Mr Spellar added that the two commissions may have a different view "but I do not believe they should have a veto on public policy."

Sinn Fein rode to the commissions` defence, attacking Mr Spellar.

Party spokesman on children`s issues, Thomas O`Reilly, MLA, said he found it "astounding" John Spellar could justify dismissing the objections of the Childrens` Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission on the grounds they weren`t elected.

"Who here has ever cast a single vote for John Spellar? Despite the fact that he has no electoral mandate, Mr Spellar feels that he has the right to ride roughshod over the Good Friday Agreement by refusing to allow a full equality impact assessment to be made," he said.

The minister should know that Sinn Fein, the party with the second largest electoral mandate in the province "objects strongly to the completely undemocratic method he is using to push this legislation thorough," added Mr O`Reilly.

The SDLP`s equality spokesman Patricia Lewsley said the government had made a commitment under the Northern Ireland Act to test the equality implications of legislation and regulations by means of an Equality Impact Assessment.

"Now the minister proposes to rush through ASBO`s without even proper consultation with affected parties, particularly young people and the professionals who look after their interests," she said.

The SDLP welcomed the decision of the Children`s Commissioner to seek a judicial review in order to ensure fuller consultation, she added.

ASBO`s should not be used as a "high profile quick fix" said Ms Lewsley who said they had not been as successful in England and Wales as the minister seemed to think.

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