Making Diversion Work: Lord Chief Justice Delivers Keynote at NIACRO AGM

The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan has told an audience of NIACRO members that more should be done to divert people involved in low level offending from court.

Speaking at the 44th NIACRO AGM on Thursday, Northern Ireland’s most senior judge paid tribute to the dedicated work of the long-running voluntary organisation, saying NIACRO plays an important role in delivering practical interventions to reduce crime and its impact on people and communities. The Lord Chief Justice used his keynote address to discuss opportunities for innovation in the justice system, highlighting the need to ensure that disposals for children and young people who offend are proportionate and in the best interests of the child, whilst ensuring public protection.

He also addressed the problem of diversionary disposals for young people – such as youth conferences – unnecessarily attracting criminal records which undermine effective rehabilitation, noting the work NIACRO did earlier this year in its Off The Record campaign which called for minor childhood offences to be removed from criminal records. He suggested that there could be instances where more innovative thinking could be applied regarding criminal records when the young person takes responsibility.  

During his speech, entitled ‘Making Diversion Work’, the Lord Chief Justice raised the issue of how to deal with low-level adult offending, noting the limited options for diversionary disposals available for these offenders and outlining the balance to be struck between addressing underlying reasons for offending behaviour and also assuring victims that their needs are respected.

In particular, Sir Declan discussed the need to move more towards community sentences as an alternative to imprisonment, for both social and economic reasons. Given the high number of short prison sentences currently handed down for minor offences, the Lord Chief Justice said that he has been working with the Probation Board for Northern Ireland to introduce an Enhanced Combination Order to provide for more community alternatives. He explained how this pilot project is working:

“The objective of the Enhanced Combination Order is to divert offenders from short-term custodial sentences by offering sentencers an existing community option in a more intensive package with a focus on rehabilitation, reparation, restorative practice and desistance. … [one of the aims] is to bring together elements of community supervision, such as community service and restorative justice, with a greater emphasis on victim engagement and judicial oversight.”

Thanking Sir Declan for his address, NIACRO Chief Executive Olwen Lyner said:

“Given the economic context Northern Ireland finds itself in today, it is critically important that we find sustainable alternatives to custody for low level offences. Imprisonment for a minor offence for a short period of time is not only disproportionately costly to the public purse; it also has a lifelong impact on both the person imprisoned and their family.

“I also welcome the Lord Chief Justice’s comments on diverting young people from the criminal justice system. As he pointed out, this is something we have championed for some time and will continue to do so to ensure children are not trapped in the system and thus in a cycle of offending behaviour. It is more effective – and indeed cost-effective – to address problems at an early stage through appropriate interventions than to deal with serious offending later in life.

“The Lord Chief Justice highlighted today that NIACRO is a valued member of the justice family and the debate our organisation promotes helps to improve the collective response to offending. We’re delighted that he was able to join our AGM and I hope that we can work together, alongside other members of that justice family, to formulate innovative and collective responses to the issues he raised.”


  1. For more information about the event, please contact Julia Kenny, NIACRO on julia@niacro.co.uk or 028 9032 0157 ext. 3250