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A report on young people’s experiences of the youth court

Young people’s voices on youth court

In the lead up to their main report,’Time to get it right: Enhancing problem-solving practice in the Youth Court’ the Centre for Justice Innovation have released a briefing paper which highlights the significance of young people’s perception of procedural fairness in the Youth Court.

Details

The findings of the briefing paper, revealed the importance of the perception of procedural fairness, the idea that when people feel they have been treated fairly by the justice system, they are more likely to trust and subsequently place legitimacy in its outcomes. The paper cites separate evidence[1]demonstrating that when the public perceive the justice system to be operating fairly, it results in:

  • an increased sense of legitimacy in the system;
  • an increase in the likelihood of individuals complying with court orders; and
  • a reduction in the likelihood of individuals reoffending.

The Briefing Paper identifies four pillars necessary to support the idea of procedural fairness:

  1. Understanding – helping young people understand the process;
  2. Voice – providing young people with a voice in the process;
  3. Respect– ensuring young people feel that they have been treated with respect; and
  4. Trust – building trust in the neutrality of the process.

Understanding

The ability of young people to understand the court’s procedures, professionals (e.g. the bench) and jargon was significant in influencing their view of procedural fairness.

Lack of understanding left young people disengaged, impacting their ability to understand the outcome of their case or how it was reached. Whilst policies designed to minimise these issues exist, such as encouraging the use of more child-friendly language, they are hampered by poor implementation.

Voice

Providing individuals with the opportunity to be heard during the court process was also material.

Individuals with limited opportunity to engage with the bench could feel irritated and ignored. When provided with an opportunity to be heard, individuals became more engaged with the court process. Providing such positive experiences can improve both the outcome of the case and young people’s perception of the outcome.

The remedies are not complicated and involve, for example, the bench speaking to the individuals directly and actively listening to them.

Respect

Treating individuals with dignity and respect is key to supporting the improving the perception of procedural fairness. Whilst the briefing paper noted reassuring signs that young people felt that they were being treated with respect, they noted occurrences of negative experiences significantly influenced young people’s perceptions of the court’s professionals and the process.

The Briefing Paper noted again that the remedies were relatively simple and include asking court staff to introduce themselves.

Trust

Building trust in the unbiased nature of the decision-making process is fundamental but this can be difficult due to the adversarial nature of court

By ensuring understanding in the process, providing young people with a voice and creating an atmosphere of dignity and respect, many of the tools required to gain trust are already in place.

The briefing paper concludes with a number of recommendations to improve procedural fairness, which will be set out fully in the upcoming detailed report including:

  • The Judicial College developing a suite of training resources for youth court magistrates including video guides to good engagement practice;
  • The senior judiciary setting a clear expectation that youth court magistrates and judges engage in continuous, monitored professional development; and
  • HMCTS setting a goal that all youth court cases should be heard in adapted courtrooms by the end of this parliament.

Commentary

The briefing paper provides helpful context on how the experiences of young people in court influence their perception of fairness and their engagement with court prescribed remedies. The findings of the briefing paper that most of the solutions already exist but lack proper implementation is disappointing but should assist in providing for a  roadmap for improvement.

[1]  To be fair: procedural fairness in courts (Centre for Justice Innovation / Centre for Crime and Justice Studies)