Information about the Youth Court
Young people who commit minor offenses are dealt with outside of the court system as much as possible. Reprimands, and official police warnings are usually given to young people who break the law. Orders like ASBO's (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) have a high profile because of media coverage, but if a young person continues to offend, they will eventually be sent to the youth court.
Which Courts do Young People Appear in?
In most cases young people aged between 10 (which is the legal age of criminal responsibility) and 17 will appear in the youth court. However, Magistrates' courts also deal with offenders under 18 years old if they are in custody with an adult charged with the same crime. The young person could have been their accomplice for instance. The Crown Court also hears cases involving young people if their crime is more serious. This can happen if the crime committed is serious enough that the youth court can't impose a sentence that the crime could attract.
In Scotland the system is slightly different in that children between 8 and 16 years old who have committed a criminal offence will first be evaluated by a Children's Hearing that determines whether the children require some form of care instead of a custodial sentence. Young people between 16 and 21 who are convicted of an offence usually serve a custodial sentence in a young offender institution.
In Ireland the age of criminal responsibility is 12 years of age. However, children aged 10 or 11 can be charged with serious crimes including murder, rape or manslaughter. Children under 12 who commit an offence will usually be taken into the care of the Health Service Executive. Also, a child under 16 can also be given a period of confinement in a children's detention school. Children aged between 16 and 17 can serve in detention centres. Young people over 18 will serve their sentences in an adult prison.
How the Youth Court Works
Youth courts are just like any other court in the country but they deal with specific cases where young people have continued to offend and must be give more strenuous sentences than the police can impose. The youth court is different from other courts in that there is no public gallery. Only those people connected to the case being heard are allowed in the courtroom. The press are allowed, but they have restrictions about what they can report. They can't for instance, mention the names of the people in the courtroom.
The court itself if similar to every other court in the UK, but the magistrate has been given special training in how to handle young people that come before them. In some cases that involve very young children, the court officials won't wear their usual uniforms or gowns. This is to reduce the stress that very young children may feel in a courtroom that can look intimidating to them.
Young people who appear in a youth court can be bailed to appear later, or remanded into custody. The police will make a recommendation to the court about which of these they would prefer. If the offender pleads not guilty, they will then move forward to a trail at the youth court at a later date. If they plead guilty, sentencing will follow. If their crime is serious, the case will go to the Crown Court for either sentencing or trial.
Custodial Sentences for Young Offenders
Young offenders who plead guilty or are found guilty could have a Detention and Training Order (DTO) placed on them as a sentence. These can be given to anyone aged between 12 and 17. The sentence can range from 4 months to 2 years. The sentence is divided into a period in custody and a period in the community under the supervision of the youth offending team.
If the offence that the young person has committed means it will be heard at the Crown Court and the offence if committed by an adult could receive a sentence of 14 years or more, the young person could be sentenced under Section 90/91. Section 90 is for murder, with section 91 available if the court wants to impose a longer sentence.