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Youth Court or Crown Court?

Seminar on where trials for Young Defendants should be held, 7 February 2018

The Michael Sieff Foundation organised a seminar at the Nuffield Foundation on 7 February 2018 to discuss the pros and cons of whether trials of young defendants in serious cases (for example rape or murder) should be held in the Youth Court or the Crown Court.

There was some measure of agreement but not unanimous thinking.

Areas for further consideration.

The judicial process can be substantially improved without significant legislative change.

A Crown Court is not a suitable venue for a trial involving a child. The Old Bailey should never be used for trial of a child or for cases involving a child.

Exceptionally serious cases may require a Crown Court trial but this should take place in a venue suitable for children.

The venue for trial should be suitable to accommodate the needs of the child defendant and/or child witnesses and not be determined by mode of trial or allocation of case. It should allow for families and support workers, ie social/YOT worker, or intermediary to sit alongside the child.

Closed docks should not be used for children, unless truly exceptional circumstances apply.

Special measures should apply as standard in all cases involving a child irrespective of venue.

Children should have access to trained, specialist lawyers.

Lawyers’ fees should reflect the seriousness and complexity of the youth case. Youth cases should be recognised as requiring specialist knowledge and training.

Older children (age to be negotiated), being dealt with for serious offences should have access to a tribunal (ie as recommended by Carlile) or a jury. This should have fewer people than a full jury for an adult trial. Further discussion can follow in relation to the nature of the tribunal.

Serious sex offence cases should be heard by a District Judge sitting with youth justice magistrates.

Closed courts should be the norm for all cases involving children (including where a case is remitted from the Youth Court to the Crown Court for sentence).

Intermediaries should be available to child defendants on a more regularised needs basis.1

HMCTS/MoJ should consult further with the judiciary, magistracy and legal representatives before extending the use of videolinks/virtual courts for children.

Section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 should be brought into force for vulnerable witnesses in youth cases.2 This should also be extended to vulnerable youth defendants.

The need for prompt process should be balanced against the need for participants to understand and participate effectively. Courts should use their powers to slow down case management when required.

Applications for Certificate for Counsel need to be processed more quickly and the Legal Aid Authority pressed to make payments that reflect the seriousness and complexity of the case, not based on venue. (See the recommendation of the Charlie Taylor Review for youth cases to have different fees to adult cases).

Management information and data collection needs to be significantly improved and information made available routinely, especially to the judiciary and magistracy.

Problem-solving approaches (as recommended by Carlile, Taylor and Lammy) are supported. Reviews of Youth Rehabilitation Orders already in statute should be introduced as soon as possible as a step towards this.

Ministry of Justice should be pressed on action, as set out in the Government response to the Taylor Review of Youth Justice, to consult on their approach to sentencing and to explore how to further integrate the Review’s principles into the current framework.

Notes

  1. Unimplemented Section 104 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 will allow for certain vulnerable accused to give oral evidence at trial with the assistance of an intermediary, but only for oral evidence giving not the duration of trial.
  2. Guidance for s28 trials in 3 courts already issued is published on www.judiciary.gov.uk here.