Inappropriate Sentences and Poor Representation in Youth Courts

A recent report has painted a damning picture of Britain’s youth justice system. The report suggests that cases involving child defendants are poorly handled, and the system is riddled with blunders such as inappropriate sentencing.

The problem, it seems, stems from a tendency within the law to unduly look down upon youth courts. They are often and dubiously treated as simpler than regular courts and even less important. For this reason, they are used as a way for young and inexperienced legal professionals to gather experience. The result is that young people are purely represented and receive little consideration for their needs. Due to a combination of general inexperience and lack of familiarity with the specifics of youth courts, legal professionals are prone to mistakes, blunders and poor practice. Frequent mistakes are made, particularly pushes for sentences that are incorrect or inappropriate.

The report compiles the findings of an enquiry by MPs led by Lord Carlile. The report contains a number of recommendations to remedy the situation and improve the standard of practice in youth courts. In particular, the report points out that the standard of specialist training for legal professionals practicing in youth courts are much lower and less consistent than in other, comparable specialist courts.

The large disparity between standards in youth justice courts and family courts, in particular, has highlighted as a point of concern by charity Just for Kids Law. Both courts handle cases involving children and young people whose needs are likely to be similar, yet legal professionals in one get far less specialist training than those in the other.

The report calls for the implementation of better training “without delay.” It suggests that professionals entering the youth justice system should benefit from at least ten hours’ worth of specialist training, followed by a two hour refresher course to be taken annually. This training would cover the needs of children going through the youth justice system in terms of welfare, development, communication and mental healthy. It would also cover the specialist laws relating to youth justice, and how child defendents can participate most fully and fairly in proceedings.

Most respondents to the enquiry agreed that significantly better training procedures should be implemented to solve the problems with the current system. Among these respondents was the Law Society, who also said that cases where under 18s appear in crown court should be the “rare exception.” The crown court, it said, was “inappropriate” for child defendants because its “intimidating nature” would prevent them from participating properly and compromise their right to a fair trial.