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Judicial decision making in light of the Coronavirus pandemic

In a letter to judges and magistrates, the Youth Justice Legal Centre along with 13 others, have urged courts to exercise extreme caution before remanding and sentencing children to custody during the coronavirus pandemic. The risks, both physical and mental, that children in custody will be exposed to during this time will, in most cases, outweigh the need for custody.

Details

The letter states that decisions to make custodial remands should be subject to anxious scrutiny in light of the virus. Children should not be remanded unless there are wholly exceptional circumstances.

In addition, imposing custodial sentences on children should be avoided during this time. The Sentencing Council’s guideline on sentencing children and young people is very clear that the impact of custody on a child is highly relevant to the sentencing exercise:

‘The welfare of the child or young person must be considered when imposing any sentence but is especially important when a custodial sentence is being considered. A custodial sentence could have a significant effect on the prospects and opportunities of the child or young person and a child or young person is likely to be more susceptible than an adult to the contaminating influences that can be expected within a custodial setting. There is a high reconviction rate for children and young people that have had custodial sentences and there have been many studies profiling the effect on vulnerable children and young people, particularly the risk of self harm and suicide and so it is of utmost importance that custody is a last resort.” 1

The impact of the pandemic squarely falls within this guidance and this should be highlighted to all those involved in sentencing children.

This is also in accordance with the ‘welfare principle’ 2 and the best interests principle required by Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Read the full letter here.

  1. Sentencing Council’s Definitive Guideline on Sentencing Children and Young People, para 6.49  (back)
  2. s.44(1) Children and Young Persons Act 1933  (back)