When young people under 18 years old are charged with a criminal offence, they must go to a youth court. This is a specialist court for young people where magistrates or sometimes a specialist district judge will hear the case.
If the offences were committed with an adult the case may first be heard in an adult magistrates’ court, but usually the case will be sent back to the youth court for sentencing.
Very serious offence can be dealt with by a judge at a Crown Court.
If the offence is denied (plea of not guilty) a trial will take place.
In magistrates’ and youth courts, all the evidence is listened to by the magistrates or district judge who will decide if the person is guilty or not. In a Crown Court a jury will decide.
Arriving at court
There will usually be a professional with a clipboard in the waiting or seating area. This person is the usher and anyone appearing in court must report to the usher so they can tell the court that person has arrived.
Security guards and the usher can help to direct people to where they need to go.
Parents or guardian
This person should be a parent, carer or other suitable adult.
Get to court early
If you don’t have a lawyer, you should ask to speak to the duty solicitor.
It's important to tell the lawyer what offences have been committed and why, along with some basic information about yourself such as:
- where you live
- your date of birth
- family circumstances
- what school you go to
- your hobbies.
Lawyers will advise on whether to plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ to the offences. Entering a plea normally takes place at the first hearing.
There is some waiting around, but the court will call the case on by name when they are ready to deal with it. This is usually done by the usher.
If you’re being detained by the police, they, or specialist custody staff, will bring you to court and you'll still be in their custody. This may mean that you’ll be handcuffed and escorted.
In the court
If you're worried that you don't understand what's being said, you can ask your solicitor.
Mobile phones should be turned off and any hats or hoodies removed. Being cooperative and respectful is always advisable and making a good impression is important and may help avoid a remand to a secure setting if there is a risk of that.
At youth court there will be:
- a district judge or a bench (three magistrates)
- a legal clerk
- a representative of the Crown Prosecution Service (police)
- your lawyer
- the usher or list clerk
- a representative from the YOS.
You should sit with your support person and lawyer.
Pleading not guilty
Witnesses can be called and the judge or magistrates bench will make a judgement based on evidence.
If the decision is guilty the case will proceed to sentence - see Pleading guilty below.
Sometimes the court will request an adjournment (this is a break in the trial) and ask the YOS to prepare a pre-sentence report (PSR).
A PSR provides background information to help the court understand your circumstances and what motivated you to offend. It will also advise the court on what the best sentence may be to prevent you from offending again, ensuring your safety as well as the safety of others.
The YOS will interview you and your their parent or guardian, and they may also speak to your school and other relevant people, groups, or services involved with your family.
Visit the Sentencing Court website for more information about the sentences that can be passed on young people.
Tips for attending court
Mencap's video, Raising Your Game - Getting ready for court, has useful advice for young people attending court from other young people.