Young people’s voices on youth court

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Centre for Justice Innovation briefing paper highlights the experiences of young people in youth courts in their own words.

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Procedural fairness

Last week (13 May 2020), the Centre for Justice Innovation published a new briefing paper which highlighted the experiences of young people in youth court in their own words.

The briefing paper is a prelude to a substantial report by the CJI in partnership with the Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research which will be titled: Time to get it right: Enhancing problem-solving practice in the Youth Court.

Central to the research were conversations with 25 young people in 2019 about their perceptions of youth courts and their recent experiences as defendants. Much of what young people said related to ideas around procedural fairness – a model which emphasises the importance of feeling fairly treated in determining future trust in and compliance with the law. Procedural fairness is driven by four factors: understanding the court process; having a voice in proceedings; being treated with respect and dignity; and being able to trust the neutrality of the decisions made.

Context

In the last decade, there has been a 75% decline in cases coming to the Youth Court, caused both by
falls in youth crime and the youth justice system’s success in diverting eligible cases away from court.1
However, while there are currently fewer court-involved young people, they tend to have more significant
needs as well as more serious offending profiles than they did a decade ago.

Conclusion

As well as being vital in maintaining the legitimacy and authority of the Youth Court, procedural fairness
evidently matters to court-involved young people themselves. The shortcomings recounted in interviews
and focus groups and observed at court indicate that change is necessary in order for young people
to perceive youth courts as procedurally fair. Fortunately, some light lifts, such as a renewed focus on
respectful communication and the use of child-friendly language, can realise big gains in young people’s
perceptions of court. Indeed, some of the desired good practice is already part of the Youth Court
protocol, waiting to be comprehensively applied in practice. As one young person aptly remarked:

“I think everything is set up quite fair, it just doesn’t always happen.”

The briefing notes that Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) are working with the Youth Advisory Network Ambassadors, a group of children and young adults aged between 14 and 25, to understand what improvements could be made. The group, convened by the Youth Justice Board, have all directly experienced the youth justice system and are advising HMCTS on how best to communicate and inform young people about what to expect when attending youth court.

As a result, they are designing a guide that addresses typical concerns and worries (such as what to wear); producing a ‘who’s who’ poster; and reviewing their guidance to ensure that language is easy to
understand and information is clear.

The final report will make a series of recommendations to help ensure that young people attending youth court: understand the process; have a voice in proceedings; are treated with respect and dignity; and trust the neutrality of the decisions made.

 

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

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