A child will usually have their trial in the youth court unless they are charged with an adult or they are charged with a serious offence.
What this means
All criminal cases involving children will start in the youth court (except children charged with an adult who will go to the magistrates’ court).
The law says that children should be tried and sentenced in the youth court wherever possible.1 There are some exceptions:
- Children charged with murder, attempted murder and manslaughter must be sent straight from the youth court to the Crown Court.2
- Sixteen and seventeen year olds charged with certain firearms offences with 3 year mandatory minimum sentences3 must be sent straight to the Crown Court.
- Children who could receive an extended sentence must be sent to the Crown Court.4
- Children in serious fraud or child cases when the prosecution apply for a notice must be sent to the Crown Court.
- Children charged with a grave crime may be sent to the Crown Court if a sentence substantially longer than the 2 year maximum detention and training order (DTO) is a realistic possibility.5
The youth court has to decide:
- Is there a real prospect the child, if convicted, will receive a custodial sentence of substantially more than two years (the maximum sentence in the youth court)?6
- The court must always take into consideration the welfare of the child7 and the child’s best interests.8
If a child is charged alongside an adult, it remains the case that the proper venue for their trial is the youth court. If the adult is sent for trial to the Crown Court, the court should conclude that the child must be tried separately in the youth court unless it is in the interests of justice for the child and the adult to be tried jointly. It is usually in the child’s best interests to have their case heard in the youth court because it is a specialist court for children. Some lawyers feel that children receive a fairer trial in the Crown Court where there is a jury and a judge decides legal issues, but this is a more formal court and can be intimidating for children. Legal arguments about which court a child should be in are called jurisdiction arguments.
Children in adult courts
A child whose trial is being heard in the adult magistrates’ court or Crown Court is entitled to be treated differently. See modifications in adult courts.
Youth courts now have the power to commit children convicted of a grave crime to the Crown Court for sentence.9 The youth court should only use this power in cases where it subsequently transpires “that the offending was more serious than it first appeared when the Youth Court accepted the case.”3
Where a child is convicted by the youth court of a specified offence, the youth court must commit (send) the child to the Crown Court if the child meets the dangerousness criteria for an extended sentence.10 If a child is found guilty before the Crown Court of an offence other than homicide, the court must remit the case to the youth court for sentencing, unless it would be undesirable to do so. This involves balancing the need for expertise in the sentencing of children and young people with the benefits of the sentence being imposed by the court which determined guilt.
- 1. Paragraph 12.1 Overarching Principles: Sentencing Youths, Sentencing Guidelines Council, November 2009
- 2. Section 51A(2), (3)(a) and (12) Crime and Disorder Act 1998 – offences of homicide must be sent to the Crown Court, this includes murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult (section 6(5) Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004
- 3.a. b. Section 51A Firearms Act 1968, section 29 Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006
- 4. Section 226B of the Criminal Justice Act 2003
- 5. Section 24A Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980, Section 51A(3)(b) Crime and Disorder Act 2003
- 6. Paragraphs 18 & 22 R(BH) v. Llandudno Youth Court  EWHC 1833 (Admin), paragraphs 33-35 R (on the application of H, A and O) v Southampton Youth Court  EWHC 2912 (Admin)
- 7. Section 44 Children and Young Persons Act 1933 ‘Every court …shall have regard to the welfare of the child or young person...'
- 8. Article 3 of the UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) 1989 – ‘the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration’.
- 9. Section 53 Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 in force 13 April 2015
- 10. Section 3C(2) Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000