It is natural to feel anxious or overwhelmed when appearing at the youth court, especially if it is your first time. We hope this blog will give you a good idea about what to expect at the youth court and how things work there.
What is the youth court and who appears there?
The youth court is a special type of magistrates’ court for children aged 10 (the legal age of criminal responsibility) to 17 who are charged with a criminal offence. If you are 18 years old your case may also be heard in the youth court if your case began before your 18th birthday or you are accused of breaching a referral order imposed before you turned 18.
Most cases of 10 to 17 year olds charged with a criminal offence are dealt with in the youth court. If you have been refused bail by the police and there is no youth court available, you will be taken to the adult magistrates’ court for a decision on bail and then your case will be sent to the youth court. If you are jointly charged with an adult, your case may be dealt with in the adult magistrates’ court but will usually be sent back to the youth court for sentence. For especially serious offences, such as murder or rape, cases start in the youth court but may be passed to the crown court for trial or just for sentencing.
What is different about the youth court compared to adult courts?
The youth court is less formal than adult courts. It is specially designed to make it easier for you to understand what is happening and to feel less intimidated.
A youth court has either three magistrates, known as “a bench” or a district judge. There is no jury at the youth court. The magistrates and district judges have had special training on how to handle young people.
Youth courts are held in magistrates’ court buildings and sometimes have dedicated youth courtrooms. Magistrates and district judges should call you by your first name, speak directly to you and make sure that you understand what is happening. Usually court staff and lawyers do not wear wigs or formal gowns. You will usually appear in the main part of the courtroom rather than in the dock. If the court think you are particularly dangerous or have been remanded in custody then you will appear in the dock.
The Youth Offending Service (YOS) play an important role in the youth court. A member of the YOS will be present at court to talk to you and, if relevant, make recommendations for your sentence to the magistrates or district judge.
There is no public gallery at the youth court. Members of the public are not allowed in unless they get permission. The press are allowed in the youth court but there are restrictions on what they can report on. Reporting restrictions include not revealing the name, home address, school or photos of any child in the court proceedings, which may make identifying them likely. The media sometimes challenge reporting restrictions after court proceedings have ended but this is uncommon.
If you are under 16, then a parent or guardian must go with you to the youth court. If you are 16 or 17, you do not have to bring a parent or guardian to the youth court with you unless there is a court order saying so. We recommend that you always bring a parent, carer or other suitable adult to the youth court for support. Your parent and guardian should sit next to you in court.
What happens at the youth court?
You should always arrive early at the youth court so you have enough time to speak to your lawyer. Upon arrival you will be searched by security guards. The security guards will also ensure that no one without permission enters the court. When you get into the court you should look for the usher who is a professional usually wearing a black gown and carrying a clipboard in the waiting area. Anyone appearing in court must report to the usher so the court knows they have arrived. You can ask the security guards and ushers for directions to where you need to go.
If you are detained by police then they will bring you to court and you will still be in their custody. You may be handcuffed or escorted.
Before the hearing you should talk to your lawyer. Your lawyer will take your instructions on the alleged offence and explain court procedure to you. Your lawyer will also advise you on the strength of evidence against you, plea and credit for an early guilty plea. Your lawyer will advise you on bail, trial strategy and sentencing if relevant.
The usher will call your name when your case is ready to be dealt with. It is normal to be waiting around a bit. You should turn off your mobile phone before entering court. You should not eat or chew in court. Try and make a good impression by dressing smartly and being co-operative and respectful as this can make a big difference.
In court there will be the district judge or three magistrates, a legal clerk, a legal representative of the Crown Prosecution Service, your lawyer, an usher or list clerk and a member of the YOS. You should sit with your lawyer and parent or guardian.
If at any point you don’t understand what is going on then you should ask your solicitor as they are there to help you.
You will normally enter your plea at the first hearing. If you enter a guilty then the matter proceeds straight to sentence. If you enter a not guilty plea then the matter will proceed to trial.
If your matter is not dealt with on the day then the youth court may impose bail conditions on you. You could also be remanded to local authority accommodation or to custody.
There may be various case management hearings to make sure everything is ready for trial. At trial the Magistrates or district judge will listen to all of the evidence, including witness evidence, and will decide if you are guilty or not. If the verdict is not guilty that is the end of the matter. If the verdict is guilty then the matter goes to sentence.
You must attend the youth court when you are directed to because if you do not then a warrant can be issued for your arrest.
How does sentencing work at the youth court?
In terms of sentencing, the court may request an adjournment, which is a break, and ask the YOS to prepare a Pre-Sentence Report (PSR). A PSR will include background information to help the court to understand your circumstances and your motivation for offending. It will include advice to the court on what sentence would best prevent you from offending again and keep you and others safe. In order to prepare a PSR, the YOS will interview you and your parents or guardians. The YOS may also speak to your school and other people, groups and services involved in your life.
The youth court can give a range of sentences including the following:
- Referral Order
- Youth Rehabilitation Order (YRO)
- Intensive Supervision and Surveillance (ISS)
- Driving Penalties (in case of driving offences)
- Bail Supervision and Support
- Custody – normally a Detention and Training Order (DTO)
The maximum sentence in the youth court is a two year Detention and Training Order (DTO). This means you spend half of the sentence in custody in a secure training centre, secure children’s home or young offender’s institute. Then you spend the other half of the sentence outside under the supervision of the local YOS. Children under the age of 10 cannot be placed in custody. 12 to 14 year olds can only be placed in custody if they are persistent offenders.
The crown court can give longer custodial sentences than the youth court. The youth court can send you to be sentenced by the crown court if you have committed a serious offence, known as a grave crime, and they decide that you should receive a custodial sentence of more than two years. The law about grave crimes is complex and your solicitor will be able to explain if it is relevant to you.
If you disagree with the youth court’s verdict, you may be able to appeal. You should seek advice from a solicitor about this.
Hodge Jones & Allen’s specialist Youth Justice Team of expert solicitors are happy to guide you through the court process and make sure it is as
If you are under 18 years of age and would like advice or representation for a criminal matter please contact our specialist Youth Justice Team of expert solicitors on 0808 252 5231 or request a call back online.