I would give up...youth courts

Chris Stanley
Wednesday, 19 March 2014

I would give up... the youth court, raise the age of criminal responsibility, set up a welfare based approach similar to that which exists in most of Europe. Chris Stanley JP explains why:

Many people working in the Youth and Family Courts systems believe there is a need for change. Some argue for a joining of the youth and family jurisdictions to form a Family Justice Court dealing with children holistically, with care and crime together. This is how the Scottish Children's Hearing system has operated for over 40 years. Children and young people who commit crimes are often the same children that are abused and neglected. Why not deal with them in one single jurisdiction?

Youth Court magistrates, week after week, see children and young people who they have to sentence for their criminal behaviour. They often come from families with a multitude of problems. If the main principle of a Youth Court is to reduce reoffending, how can a purely criminal Court tackle these problems that are the underlying cause of the offending? A mainly criminal range of sentences does not address the needs of these families. Only by addressing these can we hope to make a start in reducing offending.

Our Youth Courts are mini adult courts. Much of the legislation is drafted for adults and handed down to the Youth Court with no regard for the particular needs of children. The Youth Court is often an inappropriate venue to deal with children and young people whose criminal behaviour has brought them to the notice of the criminal court that cannot then address the underlying causes of that behaviour. Much of Europe has a holistic approach to dealing with children that are troubled or are in trouble. Some jurisdictions have inquisitorial systems. Would this approach be more suited to our young people?

Could it not be said that the way we treat children and young people should be the most important legal jurisdiction? The system needs to protect children that have been abused and neglected and prevent them committing further offences.

This ‘Cinderella of the courts system' needs a complete overhaul. I would argue that we have in some respects gone backwards since the 1908 Children's Act and the system needs a complete overhaul. A Royal Commission should be set up to examine the way we treat our children and young people under 18. Drawing on the experience of Scotland and Europe, the Commission could propose a more appropriate system for the 21st Century.

Chris Stanley JP, Trustee of the Michael Sieff Foundation

As part of our Justice Matters initiative we are challenging people to think about a criminal justice practice, policy or institution to abolish or abstain from. It can be conventional or unconventional – the choice is yours. To find out more and take part click here