Children under 10 are too young to be guilty of a criminal offence. As such, they do not have to appear in court – even if they committed an act which, for someone older, would be a criminal offence. If a child between 10 and 17 is charged with an offence the case will usually be in the youth court, except in certain circumstances. Youth justice is focused on prevention rather than punishment; youth courts are encouraged to consider the youth’s welfare when making any decisions.
How does the youth court differ from the adult criminal justice system?
The youth court is part of the magistrates’ court system and is normally located at the local magistrates’ court. The youth court is often in a separate part of the building to keep children and young people away from adults appearing in the magistrates’ court. Youth courts are normally less formal and they are also private – there are strict rules as to who can attend.
When does a youth not get to have their case in the Youth Court?
There are certain instances when a youth (under 18) may not be entitled to have their case held in youth court. Those instances include the following:
- when a youth is charged together with an adult – if charged together with an adult, the court may want the youth and adult tried together if the proceedings are more practical; this means the case will be heard in the magistrates’ or crown court, depending on the defendants preference and seriousness of offence
- when a youth is charged with homicide (murder, manslaughter etc) or certain firearms offences – any youth charged with homicide must be dealt with in crown court; any 16 or 17 year old charged with an offence covered by section 51A of the Firearms Act 1968 will have to attend crown court due to the severity of sentence if found guilty – or if they plead guilty
- when the offence is a so-called ‘Grave Crime’ – if the youth court believe the offence is serious enough, the case may have to be sent to crown court and the offender may be subject to sentencing outside the normal rules for youth offenders
- in the case of a ‘Dangerous Offender’ – If it is possible that a youth could be judged a ‘dangerous offender’ then his case should be sent to the crown court. For this to happen the youth would have to have committed a ‘specified offence’ or a ‘serious specified offence’. So-called ‘specified offences’ include many offences involving violence or danger such as Robbery, GBH or Threats to Kill among others. The court would also have to believe that there is a significant risk that the youth would commit further such offences. They would also have to be of the opinion that the sentence the youth would face if convicted would be two years actual time in custody.
If you think you, or a friend or family member, may have a child who will be subject to the youth court justice system, remember AFG LAW can assist you. Please ring 01204 377600 to speak to one of our expert youth court solicitors who can advise you and attend court.