HMCTS has issued guidance for parents and guardians of children who have been charged with an offence/offences they wish to plead not guilty to. The guidance specifically references the new Youth Court PET form and is a useful starting point for parents/guardians unsure of how to navigate the youth criminal justice system. The guidance can be accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/pleading-not-guilty-in-court/parents-and-guardians-children-entering-not-guilty-pleas.
The HMCTS guidance is for parents/guardians who are unsure of what to do when a child they are responsible for comes into contact with the criminal justice system and wishes to enter a not guilty plea at Court. Key aspects of the guidance include:
- Recommending the parent/guardian make contact with a lawyer as soon as possible before any hearing date
- Sign posting parents/guardians to the Law Society/the gov.uk website in order to find a lawyer
- Explaining the concept of confidentiality as between the client and the lawyer
- What being “not guilty” of an offence means
- What information a lawyer will need to know in order to complete the Youth Court PET form at the first hearing
- The issues that may arise if certain information is withheld from the lawyer by the child as the client, and what a parent can do to keep a lawyer informed of new instructions/information
- Practical advice about any court hearings on time, exchanging telephone numbers with the instructed lawyer, informing the lawyer if for whatever reason the child cannot attend a scheduled hearing date
- Setting out in clear, easy to understand terms, the legal consequences of failing to surrender to Court
This short guide is a useful resource, particularly for those parents/guardians who have no experience navigating the criminal justice system. The guidance is concise, clearly structured and easy to understand. It answers the first questions that will be playing on a parent/guardian’s mind: “does the child need a lawyer?” and “who will pay for a lawyer?”
If reviewed prior to instruction of a Solicitor, the Guidance may provide parents/guardians with an understanding of the Youth Court process prior to the plea hearing. Complicated concepts including client confidentiality, best interests, a solicitor’s duty not to mislead the court and the importance of providing your lawyer full instructions are set out in the Guidance. The simple language used in explaining these concepts may assist parents/guardians in attempting to ensure that this key information is understood by the child client.
The Guidance – addressed to parents/guardians – does give them a level of control over the process which may need to be borne in mind by practitioners. Whilst it is extraordinarily helpful to have a parent/guardian familiar with the criminal justice process and therefore able to assist a lawyer in communicating advice and obtaining instructions, care should be taken in ensuring that the child is still the centre of the process and is providing the instructions themselves.
Ella Jefferson, Solicitor, Bindmans LLP