Sentences In Youth Court
The principle for sentencing in youth cases is that the court will generally give a sentence appropriate for the youth’s age at the time when the offence took place, rather than the offender’s age at the time of sentencing. If the youth in question is a habitual offender this may not apply.
How does sentencing in youth courts differ from adult sentencing?
Youth courts have the power when sentencing to give the orders and penalties listed below, depending on several factors including the offender’s age at the time of the offence. The several categories are:
- first tier penalties
- community penalties
- custodial sentences
- ancillary orders
What do the various categories of sentencing consist of?
First tier penalties are the most lenient and are appropriate for first-time offenders or relatively minor offences. They include the following sentence options:
- absolute and conditional discharges – an absolute discharge will mean the end of the matter; a conditional discharge means no punishment so long as the defendant does not reoffend during the set period of time (up to three years)
- referral order (detailed explanation of the referral order to follow) – a ‘contract’ that the offender makes with the youth offender panel to meet regularly during the length of the order to address the offending behaviour and encourage reparation; is mandatory if the youth has no other convictions in the UK, the offence would be imprisonable and there is no fixed sentence by law for the offence; additionally a guilty plea must have been entered and the youth court believe that an absolute discharge or custodial sentence are not appropriate
- fine – the maximum fine for under 14s is £250; if 14 and under 18 the maximum fine is £1,000; size of fine depends on the seriousness of the offence; if under 16 the youth court must order the fine paid by parent or guardian
- reparation order – if the offence does not have a fixed sentence the youth court can require the youth to make reparation either to an individual or the community at large
The referral order (in detail)
The referral order is a unique community-based sentencing option which holds a young offender to account for their actions and is arranged through the volunteer youth offender panel. The referral order is used when a young person is charged with a criminal offence for the first time and pleads guilty – in practice this is usually the most common sentencing option used for first time offenders.
If under the age of 16 the offender is required to attend a youth offender panel with their parents / guardians (or local authority representative if under the care of the local authority) and, utilising a restorative justice approach, may be required to make restitution or reparation to their victim. The youth agrees to the terms of a contract developed by the panel which can include repairing damage or making financial recompense, as well as participation in a programme of intervention and other activities to address their offending behaviour.
Should the offender refuse to agree a contract, or break their obligations under it, the panel can send the offender back to the courts for re-sentencing.
What are community penalties?
Community penalties are more serious and though they don’t usually restrict freedom like being in custody they do mean that the young offender must complete certain requirements (such as attendance on courses, obeying a curfew or doing community work). The main community penalty is the youth rehabilitation order which has requirements that must be complied with for up to three years. Those requirements can include:
- a curfew requirement
- an education requirement
- a local authority residence requirement
- or a supervision requirement
A custodial sentence is a sentence that restricts the freedom of the youth by sending them to one of the following:
- a young offender institution – run by the prison service and often housed next door to or in the same building as an adult prison (although the inmates of each do not mix)
- a secure training centre – smaller and accommodate more of the individual needs of the youths incarcerated there.
- a secure children’s home – run by the local authority and are run in a similar way to local authority children’s homes.
The main type of custodial sentence is a detention and training order (DTO). A DTO sends a youth offender into custody for between four months and two years with the sentence split into two halves. The first half in spent in custody and second is spent in the community under the supervision of the youth offending team (YOT).
Are there other conditions that can be added to the sentencing process?
Ancillary orders are extra orders that can be added to a sentence at the court’s discretion. They include the following options:
- compensation – must be considered in any case where injury, or loss / damage has occurred as a result of the offence; if the offender has limited means then compensation must be given preference over fines or costs
- costs – the youth offender is ordered to pay prosecution costs within reason; costs should not normally exceed the fine if the offender is paying them self
- parental bind-overs and parenting orders
- a court can ‘bind-over’ parents / guardians to ensure they keep their child (under 16) under control and that they comply with their community sentence; a fine of up to £1000 will be added if they fail to control their child; the order can last up to three years
- parenting orders require parents to attend courses and guidance with their child over a 12 month period; they may have to ensure their child is at home in the evenings or does not go to certain places; the parent or guardian cannot refuse a parenting order
- anti-social behaviour orders – can be made either following a complaint or conviction for a criminal offence
If you think you, or a friend or family member, may have a child who is likely to be sentenced in the youth court system, remember AFG LAW can assist you. Please ring 01204 377600 to speak to one of our expert youth courts law solicitors who can advise you and attend court.