Turning 18 can have a significant impact for any child involved in a criminal case.
A child who turns 18 during a criminal case can continue to have their case heard in a youth court.1
If a child turns 18 before their case gets to court, their case must be dealt with by the adult courts.2
If a child turns 18 after they plead guilty or are convicted, but before they are sentenced, they are entitled to receive youth sentences and a court must impose a Referral Order if the compulsory conditions are met.33 Even though this creates practical issues in relation to supervision of Referral Orders and Youth Rehabilitation Orders.
If a child turns 18 before they plead guilty or are convicted, they cannot receive youth sentences but the child’s age at the time of the offence must be taken into consideration.4 Where a defendant receives a conditional discharge as a child, but breaches it after turning 18, the breach will be heard in the adult magistrates’ court (or Crown Court) and the defendant will receive an adult sentence. Courts must follow any sentencing guideline unless it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so.5 The Court of Appeal has also emphasised that turning 18 is not a ‘cliff edge’ and age remains a relevant factor for young people.
It can therefore be very important to avoid delay if a child is approaching their 18th birthday in a criminal case.
- 1. Section 29 Children and Young Persons Act 1963. Where the court has accepted jurisdiction for a grave crime before the defendant attains 18, the court may proceed to trial and sentence, including a Detention and Training Order (DTO), even though the defendant is 18 at the time of trial or sentence: Aldis v DPP  EWHC Admin 403
- 2. R v Uxbridge Youth Court ex parte H TLR 7/4/98, R v Amersham Juvenile Court ex parte Wilson 1981 2 All ER 315
- 3. R v Danga (Harbeer Singh)  QB 1996, R v Dennis Obasi  EWCA Crim 581
- 4. Paragraph 5, Overarching Principles: Sentencing Youths, Sentencing Guidelines Council, November 2009, R v Ghafoor  EWCA Crim 1857.
- 5. Section 125(1) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.