Changes that enable a child defendant to understand and take part in what is happening in the youth court.
What this means
Trials involving children should usually take place in youth courts as they are specially designed to make it easier for children to understand what is happening and feel less intimidated by their surroundings. Courts must take every reasonable step to facilitate the participation of witnesses and defendants.1
Making modifications in the youth court
Modifications (changes or adaptations) may be needed so children can effectively participate in criminal proceedings.2 The European Court of Human Rights says that a child must have a broad understanding of the trial process and what is at stake.3 There are a number of suggested ways that changes can be made:4
- Taking the defendant’s needs into consideration
- Taking extra time to explain what is happening in court
- Explaining the charge and the different elements of the offence
- Explaining possible outcomes and sentences
- Taking regular breaks
- Speaking slowly and clearly, using concise and simple language
- Using simple (not compound) questions and closed (not open) questions
- Giving evidence by live link
- Using an intermediary to help communication
- Any other change to ensure effective participation
How to raise effective participation
It can be difficult to assess whether a child can effectively participate in criminal proceedings. Usually an expert, such as psychologist, will meet the child and write a report. The report will tell the child’s lawyers whether the child can effectively participate in court proceedings and if they can, any modifications (changes) that need to be made.
Stopping the criminal case
If an expert report says a child cannot effectively participate in court proceedings. The child’s lawyer can
- Ask prosecution (CPS) to discontinue the case. If the child’s lawyer writes to the prosecution to ask them to stop the case, this is called making written representations.
- Ask the court to decide whether the child is unfit to plead. If the child is not fit to plead they will not get a criminal conviction but the court will decide if they did or did not do something that is wrong and they can receive a discharge, supervision order or a hospital order.
- Ask the judge to stop the case, the court has a power to stop a case if the defendant is unable to effectively participate, because they cannot receive a fair trial, this is called staying proceedings. This will happen very rarely.
- Rule 3.9(3)(b) Criminal Procedure Rules 2014 (back)
- Paragraph 26, R(TP) v West London Youth Court  EWHC 2583 (Admin) (back)
- T v UK, V v UK (2000) 30 EHRR 121, SC v UK (2005) 40 EHRR 10, R(TP) v West London Youth Court  EWHC 2583 (Admin) (back)
- Para 3D, 3E & 3G Criminal Practice Directions  EWCA Crim 1631), The Advocates Gateway – Effective Participation of Young Defendants, Toolkit 8, 21 October 2013 (back)