Youth Court Sentencing
The youth court generally has exclusive jurisdiction in respect of criminal proceedings brought against children or young persons. The exceptions are where the accused is charged with an adult defendant, charged with homicide and/or firearm offences, or where the young person is charged with a “grave crime” (an offence punishable with imprisonment for 14 years or more, and certain sexual offences), and the court considers that if s/he is found guilty they are likely to receive substantially more than two years in custody.
Where a young person appears before the youth court for an imprisonable offence, and s/he has pleaded guilty and has no previous convictions, the court must make a referral order. Depending on the seriousness of the offence, referral orders can last between 3 and 12 months. Once sentenced, the young offender must then attend a youth offending panel with their parents/guardian. The panel is headed by two volunteers and one member of the youth offending team. Under the order, the young person agrees a contract. This can include reparation to the victim, as well as an undertaking of programmes and activities designed to address their offending behaviour. Provided the young person complies with the order and does not commit any further offences, the referral order will be completed and the conviction will be spent. In this way a referral order gives young people the chance to make amends for the offence, and then put it behind them. The benefit being that the young person does not have to disclose the conviction to future employers unless certain exceptions apply.
Recent changes brought in under the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), now allows for repeated use of Referral Orders. The thinking behind this reform was that a more flexible approach was required in the youth court and it is hoped that greater use of Referral Orders can effectively prevent young people from reoffending.
Youth Rehabilitation Order
If the young person is not eligible for a Referral Order and the offence does not warrant a custodial sentence known as a Detention and Training Order, the young person will be sentenced to a Youth Rehabilitation Order (YRO). A YRO is a community sentence for young offenders and usually contains a “menu” of requirements which can include: activity requirements; curfew; unpaid work; supervision. Where the offence is serious and/or the young person has many previous convictions a YRO can contain Intensive Supervision and Surveillance.
The youth court’s primary aim is to reduce offending, and therefore young people are given every opportunity, with the help of YOT to rehabilitate themselves in the community. However, where the offence is so serious and/or the young person has been given community punishment in the past and has continued to reoffend the courts can and do sentence young people to custody.
If you are under 18 years of age and due before the court, or you are a parent of such a young person, please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or require representation at court.