Youth Defendants in the Crown Court

April 29, 2021

Sarah Johnston

Last month the Judicial College published a specific bench book for dealing with youth defendants in the Crown Court. It is billed as “everything relating to young defendants that a Crown Court Judge needs to know” and will plainly become an essential judicial reference tool.

The introduction asserts that the number of defendants under 18 appearing before the Crown Court is far fewer than even 10 years ago. That may be consistent with the experience of many criminal practitioners and this text will therefore be of significant value both to the judiciary and to advocates who may have little recent experience of children and young people in the Crown Court.

It assimilates information from a number of sources including the Sentencing Council Guidelines, the Criminal Practice Directions and the Advocate’s Gateway and deals with the entire lifecycle of a case: from arrest through to disposal in a style common to the Crown Court Compendium. It deals extensively with some of the most problematic areas of law including sending, bail/remand and sentence and provides useful signposts to both the relevant legislation and Criminal Procedure Rules.

Of particular note is a section dedicated to the decision to charge and out of court disposals, which will be invaluable to practitioners wanting to make representations on diversion. The principal aim of youth justice is to prevent offending by children and young persons. Diversion away from criminal prosecution is an important aspect of applying the principal aim. The police and CPS should always consider diversion as an alternative to court proceedings and cases should be kept under continuous review, such that they can be, where appropriate, referred to diversion even when proceedings have commenced.

Practitioners might want to familiarise themselves with the ACPO Youth Gravity Matrix, used by the police when determining whether a child or young person should be considered for an alternative disposal, as well as the Code for Crown Prosecutors (and the CPS Legal Guidance on Youth Offenders) when formulating submissions on this topic.

Only in limited circumstances can a procedurally accurate sending of a youth be remitted to the Youth Court. It is vital therefore that their journey there is unavoidable. We can hope the presence of youth defendants in the Crown Court continues to decline but for those who do appear, their lawyers now have a composite text to help them navigate the way.