The Youth Justice Legal Centre - part of the charity Just for Kids Law - has launched a powerful short animation, based on the accounts of children and young people of what it feels like going through the criminal courts.
The film, Judged, was premiered at an event in central London last Tuesday, hosted by YJLC and attended by nearly 200 youth justice professionals, including lawyers and youth justice services. YJLC hopes the film will be seen as widely as possible.
Watch 'Judged' here
The YJLC event was also to celebrate a new partnership between YJLC and the Raheem Sterling Foundation, set up by the England and Chelsea football player to champion education and career opportunities for children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In a message recorded for the event, Raheem Sterling welcomed the link up, saying: 'It's a partnership I'm really looking forward to. I think we could do some incredible work together.'
Clive Ellington, chair of the foundation and a former mentor to Raheem Sterling, spoke about the importance of mentoring; adding that it is 'not just telling young people what they want to hear, but what they need to hear'.
The evening was introduced by the co-heads of YJLC Katya Moran and Laura Cooper, who organised the event to bring together and celebrate the work of the youth justice community. They announced the launch of YJLC’s new membership and training programme, designed to help professionals improve their knowledge and skills to ensure the best outcomes for children, and to bring together a growing community of expert youth justice practitioners.
The event was also attended by justice campaigners Ryan Matthews and his sister Monique Coleman. At age 17, Ryan was wrongly convicted of murder in Louisiana. He spent five years on death row in the US, before being exonerated after DNA evidence uncovered by a new legal team, which included Shauneen Lambe, one of the founders of Just for Kids Law and YJLC.
Responding to the film 'Judged' Ryan told the audience it reminded him of his own experiences, and how alone he felt as a teenager in court.
In this wordless, short film a young teenager is shown been loomed over and led into court by menacing figures in wigs and gowns, who then perform a swirling, impenetrable advocacy 'dance' in front of the judge - while the child watches on uncomprehendingly. It was made by Renaldho Pelle and Edward Bulmer, after working with a group of young Just for Kids Law clients who had been through the UK criminal courts.
Ryan described the lawyers in his case as 'behaving as if they were on stage', with the prosecutor 'calling you all these names, wanting you to act out' in front of the jury.
Ryan's sister's advice to the youth justice lawyers present was: 'Try to do what's right. Do your due diligence. Work tirelessly for your client.'
Her comments were echoed by Aika Stephenson, Just for Kids Law legal director, who started her career as a youth justice service officer, before qualifying as a solicitor. Aika pointed out that youth justice is still not recognised as a legal specialism and that 'anyone can represent a child'. The evening's event was about 'showcasing' the specialist youth community, she added, telling everyone in the room: 'know that you are the experts' and 'If you see children not being represented as they should be, call it out.'