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The Criminal Process For Young People

Not too long ago, a 15-year-old girl was tragically stabbed to death on her way to school in Croydon. A 17-year-old boy was later taken into custody and later charged with murder and possession of a knife1. The criminal justice system has specific procedures and considerations when dealing with young people and they are treated differently from adults. This article explores the criminal process for young people, highlighting the key differences when they are charged with serious offences like murder compared to adults.

The criminal justice system in the United Kingdom (UK) is founded on the principles of fairness, proportionality, and the recognition that individuals should be held accountable for their actions. In the UK, the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years old, therefore, children under 10 cannot be arrested or charged with a crime. Children between 10 and 17 are considered juveniles and fall under the jurisdiction of the Youth Justice System and can be arrested and taken to court if they commit a crime2. The identity of the child will not be disclosed outside the court. This system is distinct from the Adult Criminal Justice System and is designed to address the unique needs and circumstances of young people.

How do the two systems differ?

When a young person is apprehended, they are placed into police custody with strict welfare regulations in place. During questioning, an appropriate adult is present to safeguard their rights.

Normally, youth cases are heard in the Youth Court, presided over by either three magistrates or a single district judge. These proceedings are generally less formal, and public access is restricted. However, in exceptionally serious cases, such as murder, the trial may be transferred to the Crown Court, responsible for adult criminal matters. However, in the Youth Court, a panel of magistrates presides without a jury, while the Crown Court employs a jury, though the young offender’s identity remains protected outside the courtroom3. Both the Youth Court and Crown Court adhere to established legal procedures during the trial process. The right to a fair trial requires a child to be able to participate effectively in proceedings. It is essential that a child is dealt with in a manner which takes account of their age, level of maturity and intellectual and emotional capacity. Steps must be taken to promote their ability to understand and participate in proceedings.

If the accused is found guilty, the sentencing procedure for a young person considers their age and personal circumstances, with the focus on rehabilitation. Sentencing options may include detention and training orders, custody, community-based sentences, or supervision orders. The principle aim of the Youth Justice System is to prevent re-offending and there is a duty to consider the welfare of the child.


The UK’s approach to handling 17-year-olds charged with murder and other crimes reflects a commitment to treating young people fairly and addressing the unique needs of this age group. While they may face serious consequences for their actions, the emphasis on rehabilitation and support aims to reduce reoffending and promote their successful reintegration into society. This distinct approach recognises the potential for growth and change in young individuals and seeks to give them the opportunity to rebuild their lives after involvement in the criminal justice system.

Co-author of this article is Emily Wilkinson, Leeds University.

If your child has committed a crime or requires representation at the police station or court, please contact our experts in Youth Crime & Law team on 0808 271 9413 or request a callback. 


1Sky New (2023) Elianne Andam: Boy, 17, appears in court charged with murder of 15-year-old schoolgirl after Croydon stabbing. [online] Sky News. Available at: [Accessed 29 Sep.2023].
2Crown Prosecution Service (2017). Youth Crime, The Crown Prosecution Service. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Sep. 2023].
3Crown Prosecution Service (2017). Youth Crime, The Crown Prosecution Service. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Sep. 2023].