The ability to understand and be involved in what is happening in court.
What this means
A person is entitled to a fair trial, this includes being able to effectively participate (understand and be involved in what is happening in a criminal case).1 Children are less likely to be able to effectively participate in criminal proceedings because of their age, level of maturity, intellectual and emotional capacities.
Effective participation means a child in criminal proceedings is able to:2
- Understand what it is said they have done
- Show that they understood, when they were doing it, that it was wrong
- Understand any defences which may be available to them
- Explain their version of events, answer questions, make representations
- Give proper instructions to their lawyer, suggest questions and answer questions relevant to a defence both before trial and during the trial
Effective participation at the police station
Children who are unable to effectively participate in criminal proceedings may find it hard to understand what is happening at a police station. It is important to let the police know if there are any issues that will make it hard for a child to participate effectively. There may be support that can help a child, such as using an intermediary for help with communication. The police may decide that a criminal prosecution is not appropriate or necessary, or, offer an out of court disposal because of the child’s learning difficulty or learning disability.
Effective participation at court
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 (see modifications in the youth court). If the trial takes place in a Crown Court there are modifications that can help a child to understand and take part in what is happening (see modifications in adult courts).
- 1. “…[I]t is essential that a child charged with an offence is dealt with in a manner which takes full account of his age, level of maturity and intellectual and emotional capacities, and that steps are taken to promote his ability to understand and participate in the proceedings.” Paragraph 84, T v UK, V v UK (2000) 30 EHRR 121
- 2. Paragraph 7, TP v West London Youth Court (2005) EWHC 2583 (Admin)