If your child has been arrested and/or charged to go to court, or if they have been released under investigation by the police, you should consult solicitors who possess the necessary experience in representing children and young persons.
Similarly, if your child has been asked by the police to attend for a voluntary interview under caution, you should consult solicitors who have the necessary experience to assist. Different considerations can apply to children and young persons suspected of having committed criminal offences and it is therefore essential that your child receives appropriate and dependable advice in order to ensure the most favourable outcome.
Being a youth caught up in the criminal justice system can be a highly distressing experience, and can be equally worrying for parents. Our team of specialist solicitors and advocates provide daily advice, assistance and representation to children and young persons at the Police Station and Youth Court.
What is the Youth Court
Youth courts are part of the Magistrates’ Court which specifically deals with children and young persons aged between 10 and 17 who have been charged with criminal offences.
The Youth Court is different from an adult Magistrates Court. It is somewhat less formal, with defendants being referred to by their first name, and being accompanied by an appropriate adult (someone over 18 and commonly a parent) and upon conviction, the sentences imposed are differently constructed to those imposed upon adults.
Trial in the Youth Court cannot be by a jury and cases are usually heard by three specially trained Youth Court Magistrates or a District Judge. In court, only those directly involved in the case, such as members of the youth offending team, parents, and lawyers are permitted to be present during the proceedings, and there is no public gallery. In addition, the media are invariably not permitted to identify the individuals who face prosecution.
Youth Court Sentencing – Basic principles
The principle aim of the Youth Court when sentencing a child or young person is the prevention of further offending. The welfare of the child is also important with the best interests of the child being an equal and primary consideration.
Children and young persons are sentenced differently to adults. There is generally more understanding by the courts when dealing with individuals in the Youth Court, particularly when dealing with some of the younger offenders and those coming before the courts for the first time. The approach to sentencing is more individualistic.
The courts must avoid the ‘criminalisation’ of young people and focus more on rehabilitation, reparation and re-integration rater than retribution: The sentencing Guidelines Council sets out that:
“Any court sentencing a young offender must be aware of obligations under a range of international conventions which emphasise the importance of avoiding “criminalisation” of young people whilst ensuring that they are held responsible for their actions and, where possible, take part in repairing the damage that they have caused. The intention is to establish responsibility and, at the same time, to promote re‑integration rather than to impose retribution.”
Children and young persons should be considered less culpable than adults and so should receive lower sentences than adults. It should be recognised that young people are more inclined to act impulsively, they often lack maturity, and they are not so likely to understand the impact of their offending.
How does the court come to the right sentence
In arriving at the appropriate sentence, the court will have regard to:
- The age of the offender (chronological and emotional)
- The seriousness of theoffence
- The likelihood of further offences being committed, and the extent of harm likely to result from such further offences
- Any mental health issues, any learning disability, learning difficulty, or other such disorder relevant to the young person
- Any remorse shown by the offender
- Any other additional aggravating as well as mitigating factors
The importance of age
This is an important consideration for any young person facing criminal prosecution. If a young person faces proceedings before the youth court and they are approaching their 18th birthday, there needs to be very prompt consideration on how best to plead. If a child turns 18 before they plead guilty or are convicted, they cannot receive youth sentences but the child’s age at the time of the offence must be taken into consideration.
The available sentences in the Youth Court
There are many sentencing options available to the youth court, and some are not readily understood, even by some lawyers. It is important that you ensure that your child is represented by lawyers who can assess your child’s individual circumstances and give the correct advice.
- The Absolute and Conditional Discharge
If it is felt that no punishment should be given then it can impose an absolute or a conditional discharge.
An absolute discharge is the most lenient sentence in Youth Court sentencing and once imposed is immediately the end of the matter, and deemed to be “spent”. A conditional discharge differs only in the sense that the order of the court will be for the young person to be of good behaviour for a set period of time (maximum of three years). If that proves to be successful then that will be considered the end of the matter. Any new offending which results in a conviction will mean that the court will have to deal with any new matter in addition to the matter which led to the original imposition of the conditional discharge and all matters are then sentenced together.
- Referral Order
For the vast majority of first time offenders who plead guilty in the Youth Court, a Referral Order will be imposed. A Referral Order is an agreement that the child makes with the Youth Offending Panel to abide the conditions set out in an agreed programme designed to address the offending behavior. The panel can consist of members of the local community and youth justice workers and will look to involve parents and the child or young person concerned. The order will focus on personal circumstances, education, home life and of course the offending behavior. Wherever possible, the order will look to encourage reparation and can include a variety of conditions which can include repairing any damage that may have been caused, or making financial recompense, as well as participation in a programme of intervention and other activities to address offending behaviour.
A Referral Order can last for varying periods of time up to a maximum of 12 months. Because the child is under an agreement to comply with the conditions of the order, failing to comply could result in the child being in breach of the order and the case could be brought back to court for re-sentencing.
Fines are not particularly common in the Youth Court largely due to the inability to pay. The maximum fine that can be imposed depends on the young persons’ age.
- If the child is under 14 – maximum fine £250
- If the child is 14-18 – maximum fine is £1,000
Fines imposed on under 16’s will need to be paid by the parent or guardian.
- Reparation Order
The Youth court can make a Reparation Order. This will involve the youth making reparation either to an individual victim or the community at large. This can be done in writing or in some cases face to face.
The court will usually require input from the Youth Offending Team before making this order.
- Penalties in the Community – ‘Community Penalties’
Community penalties are considered for the more serious offences and for offenders who appear back before the Youth Court having been dealt with by the court previously.
They require the youth offender to carry out certain requirements. These may include attendance on courses, being required to stay at home on a curfew (including electronically monitored tagging), or being required to carry out work in the community.
The most commonly imposed community penalty is the ‘Youth Rehabilitation Order.’
Youth Rehabilitation Order
A Youth Rehabilitation Order is a community order requiring the offending child to engage in a number of requirements which can include any of the following:
- A curfew requirement
- An education requirement
- A local authority residence requirement
- A requirement to undergo a period of supervision
- A Youth Rehabilitation Order can be imposed for a period of up to 3 years
- Detention and Training Order
A Detention and Training order (DTO) is the youth equivalent of a custodial sentence in the youth court. The law and procedure applicable to DTO’s can be complex to understand and so it is best to seek legal advice if you are unsure about anything. The length of a DTO can be between 4 months to 2 years. The first half is spent in custody, and the second is spent on release in the community and under the supervision of the Youth Offending Team.
- Additional orders that can be imposed in the Youth Court
The Youth Court will consider making an order for compensation in any case where there has been an injury, or loss/damage as a result of the offence that is being sentenced.
Upon conviction, the youth court can order the youth to pay prosecution costs or a contribution toward prosecution costs, within reason. Costs in the cases involving offenders under 16 will invariably have to be paid by the parent or guardian.
Parental Bind Overs and Parenting Orders
In some cases, and providing the child is under 16, the Youth Court will consider ‘binding over’ parents and guardians to help make sure that the parent(s) keep their child under control and to help ensure that the child complies with any order such as a community sentence imposed by the court. If it is then subsequently established that a parent or guardian has failed, the parent or guardian can be fined. ‘Bind Overs’ last for a period of 12 months.
If a child of yours, or the child of a friend or family member, needs some advice on any issue concerning an arrest and interview at the Police Station, or an appearance at court, the experienced youth court solicitors at Wells Burcombe will be happy to assist you.
Please contact us in London (West Drayton) on 01895 449288 or in Hertfordshire (St Albans) on 01727 840900 or by email via our contact page.