Good Practice Guidance on Certificates for Assigned Advocate in the Youth Court

Good Practice Guidance on Certificates for Assigned Advocate in the Youth Court 

[T]he appropriate use of advocates with the necessary skills and training are essential to ensure fair and efficient justice” – Chief Magistrate

The MoJ/YJB Youth Justice: Quality of Advocacy Working Group have published guidance on how to apply for certificates for assigned advocates (also known as Certificates for Counsel).  The purpose of the guidance is to increase the number of Certificates for Assigned advocate granted in the Youth Court.

The Guidance is supported and endorsed by the Chief Magistrate, Magistrates’ Association, Criminal Bar Association, The Law Society, Youth Practitioners’ Association, JC Service and the Youth Justice Board.


This guidance has been developed because the number of cases where certificates for assigned advocate (certificate for counsel) are granted for Youth Court cases is relatively low. Less than 200 certificates were granted in 2021/22 despite the large number of cases heard in the Youth Court, many of them for offences that would require a Crown Court trial if the defendant was an adult.

Since 2015, there is a clear presumption that children will be tried in the Youth Court (R (on the application of the DPP) v South Tyneside Youth Court [2015] EWHC 1455 (Admin)). This means children are tried in the Youth Court for serious offences such as possession with intent to supply class A drugs, robbery, rape, section 18 (GBH) whereas if they were aged 18 or over they would be tried in the Crown Court. There has been increasing concern that this leads to children, some of the most vulnerable defendants in the justice system, being represented by inexperienced and junior advocates (Youth Proceedings Advocacy Review, Institute of Criminal Policy Research, November 2015).

The guidance will help ensure children are represented by both an advocate (a barrister or other suitably qualified advocate) and a litigator (solicitor). This replicates the representation in the Crown Court. This will enable more experienced solicitors and barristers to represent children charged with serious offences in the youth court.

In his Foreword, the Chief Magistrate in endorsing this guidance acknowledges the concerns raised by the Youth Justice Legal Centre’s ‘It’s a Lottery’ report:

The problem is acute and without specialised and bespoke training, in dealing with children in conflict with the law, there will remain inconsistent and inadequate representation of those children.

There are many levers to militate this which are outside the courts’ hands but one way to ensure effective and appropriate representation is to assign experienced (in terms of their Youth Court knowledge, not necessarily their call), specially trained counsel and advocates to the case, through a certificate for an assigned advocate, this is achieved by extending the Representation Order to cover both the solicitor and an assigned advocate to represent the defendant.

Defendants deserve this, but so do complainants and witnesses. The damage and stress that can be caused by inappropriate questioning of a complainant or witness should not be underestimated and so the use of certificates and the appropriate use of advocates with the necessary skills and training are essential to ensure fair and efficient justice.”


For the first time, this much needed Good Practice Guidance will ensure those applying for a certificate and those making the decision will have clear guidance to ensure consistency in the granting of certificates.

Children need to be represented by advocates with the necessary skills and training to undertake Youth Court work, this is essential for them to receive a fair trial and access to justice.

Increasing the number of certificates for assigned advocate, will ensure experienced, suitably qualified barristers and solicitors undertake Youth Court cases. This is not only essential for children to receive a fair trial, granting certificates more consistently will help to improve the status of the Youth Court that has, for far too long, been considered junior and less serious or complex work. It will also enable continuity of representation that is particularly important for child defendants and will enable those wishing to specialise in representing children to do so and be adequately remunerated and it will no longer be acceptable to send the most junior and inexperienced advocates to the Youth Court to ‘cut their teeth’.

Note: It is worth noting that the guidance makes clear that in-house advocates (either an employed Barrister or Solicitor with Higher Rights) are able to act as an Assigned Advocate/Counsel and make a claim in the same way as other Counsel. The LAA have accepted that the wording regarding this in the contract and associated guidance is not sufficiently clear and will therefore look to revise this, working with the Law Society and other interested parties.