As of 7 June 2021 Youth Courts across the UK will be using specific Youth Court Preparation for Effective Trial (PET) forms. To date, Magistrates Court PET forms have been used for Youth Court cases. The new form can be downloaded here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/preparation-for-trial-in-a-magistrates-court.
The new Youth Court PET form has been released alongside a revised Magistrates Court PET Form. The PET form is to be used in all Youth Court trial matters from 7 June 2021 onwards. Aside from some formatting changes, the new forms do not differ dramatically in substance from the current PET forms in operation in the Magistrates’ Court. The most significant developments for the purposes of Youth Court proceedings are:
- There is now a space within the form in which the name and contact details for the child’s parent/guardian (including local authority if they are a looked after child) must be supplied to the Court;
- Annexed to the form are new draft directions relating to the use of intermediaries and ground rules;
- There is a specific section requiring the Prosecutor and the Defence to put the Court on notice of any Modern Slavery Act issues including information as to the progress of relevant NRM referrals;
- In addition to the existing requirement of defence practitioners to identify the “real issues” in the case, practitioners are now also expected to confirm what the relevant “anticipated defences” are. The defences to choose from are self-defence, reasonable excuse, modern slavery defences and ‘other statutory defences’; and
- The “advice on plea” section now specifically refers to the possible availability of referral orders for first-time child defendants who plead guilty.
It is envisaged that when the Common Platform is rolled out across Magistrates and Youth Courts nationally next year, the latest versions of these PET forms will be superseded by a comparable digital form. Until then, the new PET form is to be used in all Youth Court trial cases.
This form is specifically tailored to deal with child defendants in the Youth Court. It has been implemented following a recommendation from the MOJ and Youth Justice Board’s Youth Justice Quality of Advocacy Working Group. The introduction of this form demonstrates a recognition that children caught up in the justice system require distinct and specialist consideration. However, there remains room for improvement and it will need to evolve over time.
The new requirement that the individual or local authority with parental responsibility provide their contact information is illustrative of a push towards better case management; as is the requirement that the CPS provide a specific named contact dealing with the case. The hope, as ever, is that this will encourage communication between the relevant parties and iron out any case management issues prior to trial. As always, the goal is to reduce the number of ineffective trials and Court backlogs.
Specific reference to the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) reflects the increased prevalence of suspected victims of trafficking and modern slavery appearing as defendants before the criminal Courts. Given the PET form now flags the MSA and NRM referrals it is likely that the Courts will have less patience with practitioners going forward if these issues fail to be identified at the first hearing. Ideally this change would be complimented with efforts to improve communication between the Courts and NRM to ensure that cases involving child defendants are prioritised but we are not currently aware of improvements in this area.
It is hoped that the requirement to detail whether a child is looked after will ensure that the Court and defence representatives have a greater focus on the impact that a child’s looked after status may have.
The absence of any requirement to consider whether a case may be suitable for a Certificate for Assigned Advocate is disappointing. This would have been a step towards improving the funding of Youth Court work and, crucially, would have helped to ensure that child defendants get the quality of representation that they deserve.
It remains to be seen how much additional information defence practitioners will be required to give as a result of the new “anticipated defences” section within the PET form. In practice, when issues of self-defence, reasonable excuse or other statutory defences are relied on they are generally raised in those terms within the current “matters in issue” section. Only time will tell as to whether the existence of two sections requiring the defence to elucidate on possible defences will result in the Courts pushing practitioners to provide further information.
Ella Jefferson, Solicitor, Bindmans