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Youth court

The youth court is a specialised criminal court for under 18s who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

What kinds of cases go to youth court?

The youth court hears criminal cases about children aged between 10 and 17. Magistrates hear more serious cases for children than they do for adults including theft, arson, robbery and assault.

The most serious cases are heard either by a salaried district judge or in the crown court for cases like murder.

What training do youth court magistrates have?

All youth court magistrates also sit in the adult criminal court. Youth court magistrates have to undertake additional specialist training to sit in a youth court. This includes training on:

  • communicating with children in youth court
  • the impact of learning and communication difficulties
  • different remand and sentencing decision-making procedures and outcomes
  • child first, non-punitive approach to sentencing
  • different court procedures for children.

What sentencing powers does the youth court have?

The youth court’s primary aim is to safeguard the welfare of the child and prevent reoffending.

Magistrates in youth courts follow different, youth specific, sentencing guidelines.

Depending on the type and circumstances of an offence, the youth court can give a range of sentences including fines, rehabilitation orders and, as a last resort, custodial sentences.

How is the youth court different from the adult court?

The youth court is specially designed to take a different approach to criminal behaviour where the defendant is a child.

The differences include:

  • A different courtroom layout where magistrates, lawyers and the child are on the same level.
  • Less formal proceedings, for example use of first names, parents accompany children.
  • Reporting restrictions—children cannot be named or identified by media.
  • Magistrates engage directly with the child and do not only speak to the lawyer.
  • Additional checks are made to ensure children understand the proceedings.

The youth court addresses the unique needs of children who are still developing but who nonetheless have been accused of criminal behaviour.

How are youth court magistrates appointed?

A magistrate who sits in the adult criminal court can apply to be a youth court magistrate. If a magistrate is assessed to have the right attributes, they can be appointed to the youth panel (group of youth magistrates) in their local justice area (there are 75 local justice areas in England and Wales, each led by a bench chair).

If you are interested in applying to be a youth court magistrate, you should contact your youth panel chair or bench chair.

What does the MA want to change?

The MA has a youth court committee which advises on policy and research relating to youth courts.

Members of the committee are sitting youth court magistrates who are interested in improving youth courts. Their current priorities include:

  • Turning 18—ensuring fair treatment of children who turn 18 while their case is ongoing.
  • Addressing issue with custodial remand—ensuring that children are placed in the most appropriate setting while they wait for their case to be dealt with by the youth court.
  • Ensuring quality legal representation for children by demanding standards and training for lawyers working in the youth court.