Young people between the ages of 10 and 17 that are being charged for committing an offence will be tried at a youth court. Youth court cases are dealt with in the same place as magistrates’ court cases, but are very much separate.
The severity of the crime dictates how the court summons is issued. The parents of the young person may be issued with a letter to explain that the young person needs to attend court. If the crime is of a more serious nature then the young person may be arrested and either:
- kept in custody until the court date (usually only one day)
- let out on bail until the court date
Not turning up to court after a summons may result in an extra sentence or charge being put upon that young person.
The Youth Court Hearing
The youth court hearing is different from a standard magistrates’ court hearing in that it is less formal. The young person will be shown into the courtroom and have the charges they are accused of read out to them. The young person will then need to plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’.
In the youth courtroom will be three magistrates and a legal clerk hearing the case (known as a panel). They will give the young person a chance to put their case forward and take all evidence into consideration. After that, the panel will take some time out and then return with a result. They will state whether they believe the accused to be guilty or not guilty.
If the young person is decided to be not guilty, they will be acquitted and let go. If they are found to be guilty, then a sentence will be given.
Sentencing in a Youth Court
If the accused is found guilty, the punishment the youth court gives will vary depending on the severity of the crime. The young person may receive a:
- custodial sentence – spent in confinement, i.e. juvenile prison
- community sentence – time spent working unpaid in the community
There is a limit on the amount of time given as a sentence for young people in the youth court. Ideally, most courts would want to refrain from giving a custodial sentence, however there are circumstances when imprisonment is the best option. This is usually when:
- the crime is too serious to treat in any other way
- it is a repeat of a crime or the accused has committed crime before
- the accused is believed to be a risk to public
The young person may receive a Detention Training Order (DTO), which can last anywhere between four months and two years. A DTO is served in two parts; the first half of the sentence being served in custody, the second half being served under supervision in the community. This is known as a good method of slowly integrating the young person back in to a society where he/she will refrain from committing another crime.
Serious Crime Sentences
If a young person has been found guilty of murder, they are given something known as a ‘Section 90’ sentence by the youth court. This is when the young person is given a minimum amount of time to spend in custody. Parole is not available unless the parole board believes the young person will not commit another crime. After release, the young person will be under supervision for the remainder of their life.
Any other serious crimes – usually of a sexual or violent nature – will be sentenced as a ‘Section 226’ or ‘Section 228’ by the youth court. This is usually an extended sentence resulting in a long period of confinement. Even after release, the young person will be under supervision for a very long time.