The Centre for Justice Innovation have published a paper setting out the rationale and method for implementing and testing a procedurally fairer way to hear the cases of young adult defendants in the criminal courts in England and Wales.
Young adults are defined as 18 – 24 year olds. This cohort of offenders are over-represented in the criminal justice system, have a re-offending rate of 75% and therefore use up a large amount of resources.
There are a range of reasons for this including the fact that their brains are still developing and therefore they do not have the maturity of adults. In addition, the criminal justice system introduces barriers to the natural desistance process.
Procedural fairness research has shown that a system which makes people feel they have been treated fairly, listened to and respected makes those people more likely to co-operate with the process therefore resulting in less offending.
Following an initial feasibility study in 2015 by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, a multi-disciplinary team researched the possibilities for a more procedurally fair, distinct court process for young adults, which would have the potential to reduce reoffending. The suggested model includes the following features:
- Providing better information to young adults before attending court;
- Grouping young adults’ hearings into a nominated sitting each week;
- Holding a pre-court meeting on the nominated day to identify any communication needs, reports to be prepared, and those known to be unrepresented;
- Preparing young adults for the opportunity for direct engagement with the bench;
- Ensuring timely probation reports are completed that take into account maturity in line with the current probation instruction;
- Enhancing engagement during the hearing itself through such means as having practitioners in the room with an understanding of young adults’ special needs, checking young people’s understanding more effectively, explaining the roles of those in the court room where appropriate and giving young adults an opportunity for direct engagement with the bench;
- Following up after hearings to check understanding and next steps; and
- Supporting voluntary take-up of community services that are available locally to tackle wider needs that may be contributing to offending behaviour.
The Ministry of Justice, the court service and the senior judiciary are considering whether they wish to test the model.
The recognition of the fact that young adults need to be treated differently to adults is welcomed. The importance of procedural fairness, as it is defined in this report, is acknowledged for children and its value does not evaporate once a defendant turns 18.