Advocacy in the youth court

The Ministry of Justice’s 2016 review of the youth justice system in England and Wales stated that many children in the youth justice system are likely to:

  • be in care
  • have mental and other health problems
  • have learning difficulties

The youth court is where having an expert lawyer can make a difference.

Tips for working with children in the youth justice system

These tips provide a basic introduction to working with children in the youth justice system. The Solicitors Regulation Authority offers a wide range of resources on criminal and youth court advocacy.

Have a good understanding of youth justice law

The youth court differs from the adult court in many ways, including:

  • bail and remand decisions
  • jurisdiction decisions
  • anonymity protections
  • special measures regimes and standards
  • sentences and outcomes
  • statutory bodies

Build a positive relationship with your client

Listen to your client and show that you understand their concerns. If they feel you’re trying your best for them, they’re more likely to be open and want to take part.

Make sure your client understands what you’ve told them

Use simple language, avoid legal jargon and ask open questions.

Ask your client to explain back to you what you’ve just told them or ask questions to find out if they’ve understood your advice.

Find out about your client’s background

To make sure you can properly represent your client, find out as much as you can about them. Ask them, their parents/carers, support worker and the youth offending team whether:

  • there are any problems at home
  • they have any medical conditions or diagnosis, including any mental illness
  • they’re on any medication
  • they’re at school or college (and if they can get extra help)
  • they have a statement of special educational needs or an education, health and care (EHC) plan

You should also know who their family is and who they live with.

Make sure they know what to expect in court

Ideally, you should show your client and their supporting adult(s) around the courtroom when it’s empty. If this is not possible, you can:

  • talk them through the layout of the courtroom
  • explain who will be in court and where they’ll be sitting
  • go through what will happen

Most district judges and magistrates will want to speak to the young defendant. It’s your role to make sure communication between the court and the child is as easy as possible, so prepare them for this before going into court.

Explain what happens after the trial

Talk through:

  • what’s been decided in court
  • what’s expected of them now
  • any questions they might have

They should know what support is available locally for issues such as:

  • housing
  • education
  • employment and training
  • mental health

Training for solicitors

We want our members doing this vital work to receive the recognition and support they need. We’ve partnered with the Youth Justice Legal Centre to create a programme of training courses for solicitors appearing in the youth court.

These courses include training in youth court law and procedure. There are contributions from young people discussing their experience of the criminal justice system, and what they would have liked from their solicitor.

The training is delivered by experienced youth justice lawyers who will offer practical tips along with the relevant statutory guidance, legislation and case law.

Topics covered will include:

  • the rights of children at police stations
  • pre-court disposals
  • bail and remand
  • jurisdiction
  • effective participation and fitness to plead
  • adaptations to the trial process, including intermediaries
  • youth sentencing
  • child development
  • communicating with young people who have learning difficulties, mental illness and communication needs

Read more information about working in the youth justice system

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