Youth Crime - FAQs

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Applying the law to children and young people is a specialist area of law, so it is important to get legal advice from experienced youth crime solicitors at the earliest opportunity. There are special procedures in place for young people who are suspected of a crime and we understand that the criminal justice process can be confusing, intimidating and frightening for a young person. We also recognise that it can be an extremely distressing and unsettling time for parents and guardians too.
 

Below are some of the frequently asked questions in relation to youth crime and justice, which we are often asked by parents when their child has been accused of a criminal offence. 

What is the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales?

The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years old. This means that children under 10 cannot be arrested or charged with a crime.

Children from 10 to 17 years old will be treated as ‘young offenders’ and all but the most serious criminal cases will be dealt with by the youth courts. If the child has committed an offence and an adult was also involved then the court proceedings can be held in either the magistrate’s or the Crown court.

Children under 10 who come to the attention of the police may be asked to attend a ‘safeguarding interview’ following consultation between the police and social services. The interview is designed to provide ‘words of advice’ to the parent and child regarding the child’s future conduct.

Read more about our views on the age of criminal responsibility in our blog here.

 

When do young people become adults in the eyes of the law?

Young people aged 18 are treated as adults by the criminal law.

 

What happens if my child turns 18 during criminal proceedings?

Turning 18 can have a significant impact for any child involved in a criminal case.

If a child turns 18 before they enter a plea at court, their case must be dealt with by the adult courts. A child who turns 18 during a criminal case can continue to have their case heard in a youth court.

If a child turns 18 after they plead guilty or are convicted, but before they are sentenced, they are entitled to receive youth sentences and a court must impose a Referral Order if the compulsory conditions are met.

If a child turns 18 during the court proceedings, the Youth Court has discretion to continue to deal with them or send them to an adult court. In either case, the child’s age at the time of the offence must be taken into consideration. Courts must follow any youth sentencing guideline unless it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so.

The Court of Appeal has also emphasised that turning 18 is not a ‘cliff edge’ and age remains a relevant factor for young adults, see our blogs on the topic here and here.

 

What happens if my child is taken to the police station?

Children at the police station should be treated differently from adults and are provided with additional protections, such as the right to an appropriate adult. Children should also be kept separate from adult detainees when they are at the police station (or being transported) and never share a cell with an adult. If at all possible, children should be detained in a room other than a police cell. If the child cannot be released, they should be transferred to local authority accommodation overnight.

If a child is arrested, the police must (in most circumstances) immediately tell the child’s parents or person with parental responsibility for the child that they have been arrested, why they have been arrested and where they are detained.

It is important to seek legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity, particularly for any attendance at the police station, as decisions made in the early stages can have a significant impact on how the cases proceeds.

 

Can I attend a police interview with my child as an Appropriate Adult?

If a young person is to be interviewed by the police, the law states they must have an “Appropriate Adult” present during the interview. The Appropriate Adult’s role is to facilitate communication between the child and the police and ensure the welfare of the child being interviewed.

In practice this is usually a parent or family member aged over 18 although it can sometimes be a volunteer from an appropriate adult scheme. If the suggested appropriate adult is involved with the case as a potential witness or victim then it would not be appropriate for that person to be the Appropriate Adult.

 

What is the youth court?

If a child or young person is charged with an offence then they will be asked to attend the youth court. This is a special type of magistrates’ court for children and young people aged between 10 and 17.

The youth court is arranged to be less intimidating (for instance, children and young people normally sit next to their parent or lawyer rather than in the dock) and the magistrates and district judges have specialist training to deal with children and young people. The law relating to how youths are tried and sentenced differs to adults and can be quite complex depending on the alleged offence and age of the youth. It is important that a youth is represented by a solicitor who specialises in youth crime.

 

What is the difference between the adult court and the youth court?

The youth court differs from adult criminal proceedings in a number of ways.

In the youth court, the cases will always be heard by either a magistrate or a District Judge, never by a judge and jury.  Unless the child or young person is in custody, they will be seated next to their parent or lawyer rather than in the dock. The child or young person will be called by their first name. Only those directly involved in the case - the prosecutor, the youth offending team, court staff and the defence solicitor - are allowed in court when the case is being heard.  Unlike the adult courts, the youth court is private and if the child is under 16 a parent or guardian must accompany them.  It is rare for the media to be allowed access to the hearing. Save in exceptional cases, the court will make an order prohibiting the publication of information that might result in the child or young person being identified.

 

What will happen to my child if they are found guilty of a criminal offence?

The aim of sentencing in the youth court is to prevent children and young people committing offences in the future.  Punishment of the child or young person is a secondary consideration. The court must also consider the welfare of the child; this includes seeking to improve the child’s social circumstances and ensuring that proper provision is made for their education and training. The best interests of the child should always be a primary consideration.

The youth court has a range of sentencing options at its disposal. The vast majority of sentences are carried out in the community and supervised by Youth Offending Service (YOS). A range of custodial sentences are available for children taking into account a child’s age and the seriousness of the offence. These include remand to the care of the local authority in a Secure Children’s Home or Secure Training Centre or detention in a Young Offenders Institution.  Custody should only be used as a last resort and is available only to children and young people aged over 12 years.

In particularly serious cases, a child or young person can be sentenced in the Crown Court where a wider range of sentences is available.

 

What if my child has not committed a serious crime or this is the first time they have committed an offence? Are there any alternatives to them being charged?

Children and young people who commit less serious crimes and are at low risk of reoffending can be offered alternatives to being charged with a criminal offence. These are known as ‘out of court disposals’ and they provide an opportunity for the police to deal with low level offending without relying on formal criminal justice sanctions.

At Kingsley Napley we have particular expertise in identifying when an out of court disposal is the most suitable outcome for our clients which, most crucially, will avoid prosecution and minimises the impact of the alleged offending behaviour on the young person’s future prospects.

Out of court disposals include:

  • Restorative justice - this alternative to prosecution is particularly suited to youths who have no prior engagement with the criminal justice system. The process is victim led and depends on the wishes of the victim but can often involve a written apology from the young person or compensation for any damage.
  • ‘No Further Action’ (NFA) - no further action is the outcome when the police make a decision not to charge someone with an offence. This may be because there is not enough evidence or it is not in the public interest. It is not usually in the public interest to criminalise children.
  • Triage aka Diversion – a ‘triage’ is an informal process which means a child is not prosecuted but is instead given a community resolution or youth caution. They could also be asked to go to appointments with the Youth Offending Team (YOT) and the police will NFA their case.
  • Community resolutions – the Police can use a community resolution in matters of low level offending. The resolution can include the offender making a promise to help undo the damage they have caused, such as repairing any criminal damage or cleaning up graffiti.
  • Outcome 21 – this is a relatively new outcome designed to deal with young people who share or possess sexual images of themselves or others, aka ‘sexting’ offences. This code allows the police to record a crime as having been committed but no formal action having been taken. Read more about outcome 21 in our blog here.
  • Outcome 22 – this is a new  outcome  which can be used by the Police to defer taking formal action  while the young person is given the opportunity to engage in an intervention activity aimed at avoiding them being in the same position again in the future.
  • Youth Caution / Youth Conditional caution – children can be given a youth caution if they admit a criminal offence. The police must have enough evidence to prove that the offence happened but it is not in the public interest to prosecute.  Youth conditional cautions are a caution with one or more conditions attached.  If a child does not keep to the conditions they could be prosecuted for the original offence.

 

What could be the impact of a conviction on my child’s future?

Even if your child was under 18 at the time they committed an offence, the consequences of a conviction can still significantly impact their life. Certain university courses, job roles or volunteering opportunities may require them to undergo a criminal background check, which may include disclosure of convictions or cautions they received as a youth. It could also impact their ability to travel.  

 

Further information about youth crime and justice

Please see our youth crime blogs for further information and regular updates. 

Should you have any questions, please contact our team of youth crime solicitors in confidence or call us on +44 (0)20 7814 1200. Our youth crime solicitors are formally trained and experienced in building rapport and trust with your child so that they feel confident in giving instructions and understanding the advice they receive.  We view you, their parent, as an essential partner in the process and value your input in resolving your child’s case. 

What clients and their parents have said about us

Getting in touch with you was the best and single most important step in coping with this situation.

You respected the age of your client in your calm but firm and honest dealing with [my child].

I would not wish my family’s recent experience on anyone but I would view anyone lucky enough to secure your services extremely fortunate."

The minute I spoke to Sandra I knew we were in safe hands. So professional yet created a very relaxed environment for my son."

Gosh I can finally smile again. Thank you so much.”

[My child and I] are both ever so grateful for having crossed paths with you…you were such a pleasure to work with, you so ably guided us through and were an amazing support to us."

Thank you very much for all your work on this case – we as a family are very appreciative of your help and support. You helped us at a very difficult time and we are still grateful. [Our child] has certainly come out of it as well as can be expected and I think he is determined to become a Rock Star solicitor having met you all! He still thinks you are one of the coolest people he’s ever met!"

I was absolutely thrilled [with the outcome] and it has felt like a big weight off my shoulders. These past 4 months have been absolutely horrendous, but ameliorated by being able to rely on all of you to chat and answer questions (however silly). Many thanks to all of you for your hard work. Just saying thank you, feels a trifle insufficient given the gravitas of the situation but I do really mean it."

I am of course very fortunate that my parents had pulled together the resources so I could have my own solicitor, had this not been possible my future would have been very different."

[Our child] will head back to Uni next week and the difference in his mood and outlook is heart-warming. The future is looking bright again." 

We cannot thank you enough for all the support, guidance and expertise not to mention the shocking yet amazing outcome."

Your professional approach was incredibly reassuring to us as we were going through a very difficult time. We are so grateful for all the help and support you gave [our child] and ourselves at that time and would unequivocally recommend you to parents and teenagers going through similar situations. "

 

Getting in touch with you was the best and single most important step in coping with this situation.

You respected the age of your client in your calm but firm and honest dealing with [my child].

I would not wish my family’s recent experience on anyone but I would view anyone lucky enough to secure your services extremely fortunate."

The parent of one of our clients

[My child and I] are both ever so grateful for having crossed paths with you…you were such a pleasure to work with, you so ably guided us through and were an amazing support to us."

The parent of one of our clients

Thank you very much for all your work on this case – we as a family are very appreciative of your help and support. [Our child] has certainly come out of it as well as can be expected and I think he is determined to become a Rock Star solicitor having met you all!"

Parent of one of our clients

The care, consideration and professionalism which [our child] was treated with by you, meant what could have been potentially a life changing experience was one where he felt informed, understood and less frightened. I will never be able to thank you enough."

Parent of one of our clients

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