cambridgeshire magistrates

funded by the Cambridgeshire Branch of the Magistrates' Association

Youth Courts

Youth courts deal with cases for all defendants aged 10 to 17 (in England and Wales children under ten are below the age of criminal responsibility). Once they reach 18 their case is heard in the adult court. All magistrates who deal with youth matters are specially trained because of the different way in which these cases are managed and the different sentences available.

In Cambridgeshire most Youth cases will be heard in Huntingdon.

Youths do on occasion appear in the adult court, for example when charged with committing a crime with an adult. However, sentencing guidelines make it clear that the youth court is generally the right court for children and young people and given the limited sentencing powers of the adult court to deal with youths, most young people are sent back to the youth court to be sentenced.

Almost all youth cases are dealt with by magistrates. Only extremely serious cases (for grave crimes and dangerous offenders) are sent to the Crown Court.

Why are Youth Courts Different?

Successive Acts of Parliament make it clear that local authorities must reduce the need to bring criminal proceedings against children and avoid the need for children to be placed in secure accommodation.

So prior to bringing a child to court, a number of alternatives - out of court disposals - are available to attempt to keep them out of the court system. These include restorative justice and youth conditional cautions. During this process, children may receive support from the local authority through the Youth Offending Team (YOT). YOT operates rather like the Probation Service does for adults. Once all out of court alternatives are exhausted, or if a serious offence is committed, a court appearance becomes inevitable.

The Court Process

Youth court work is confidential and there are limitations on who is allowed in the court room: only the defendant and parents, or an appropriate adult; their legal representatives, witnesses and the press. The press can report the proceedings but as a general rule they are prevented from publishing details which identify the defendant. This is to prevent the criminalisation of the child.

Usually, the room is laid out in a less formal way and the case is heard with all present remaining seated. As in an adult court, the magistrates decide on guilt or innocence, questions of bail and appropriate sentences. Bail and sentencing can be very different from an adult court and custody is avoided if at all possible.

The sentencing rules for youths are very different from adults with many more outcomes available. One of the principal aims of youth sentencing is to prevent the defendant from offending again. To this end, the YOT work with the young person on a range of interventions that encourage the individual to stay away from crime.

Court Powers

The wide range of sentences available to youth magistrates start from a referral order for a first offence (unless it is so serious that custody is unavoidable), rising to discharge and fines for the least serious offences to youth rehabilitation order (YRO) through to custody in rare cases. Many offenders receive a YRO and YOT officers work with them in an attempt to change their behaviour. A YRO can include one or more of supervision, designated activities, a curfew, reparation, the attendance centre etc. For those offenders under 16 years of age, parents are normally made responsible for the payment of any financial penalty. The court can order the parent(s) to undergo a course on parenting skills if the magistrates believe that this would help the young defendant.