Young offenders

A young offender is someone aged between the age of 10 and 17 who has committed a criminal offence. Individuals in England and Wales aged 18 and over are classed as adults, while children aged under 10 are not considered ‘criminally responsible’ and therefore cannot be arrested or charged with a crime.

Pre-court proceedings for young offenders

If the police suspect a child aged between 10 and 17 is responsible for a crime they can refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service and the matter may go to court. However, police have the power to mete out punishments themselves, which are often used if the matter is minor or they don’t think they have enough evidence for a conviction. These include:

Reprimand and final warning

Designed to acknowledge the fact that the police are aware of a young individual’s offence, a reprimand or final warning is given in front of his or her parents or guardians. The written details of the reprimand or final warning are held on the police database, with a copy given to the parents or guardians.

If a final warning is given, the individual will also be referred to the Youth Offending Team (YOT) for help to prevent future misbehaviour. Composed of representatives from the police force, social, health and education services, the YOT assess which programme the youth offender needs.

Local child curfew

A child under the age of 16 can be banned by the police from being in a public place between the hours of 9pm and 6am unless accompanied by an adult.

Acceptable behaviour contract

The YOT will provide an acceptable behaviour contract to a young person to try to modify their behaviour. The child and his/ her parents will be the respondents of the contract. Any breach in the agreement will result in the issue of an anti-social behaviour order.

Anti-social behaviour order

An anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) is a memorandum directing the young individual to comply with the conditions stated, eg, they may be barred from going to stated public places. The ASBO may be given to anyone who is at least 10 years old and has caused alarm, distress or harassment. If the order is not followed, the young individual may face prosecution.

Individual support orders

Individual support orders (ISOs) may be served with the ASBO. The ISO requires the individual to attend sessions each week to improve their behaviour. They usually last up to six months. Failure to follow the ISO would be considered a criminal offence.

Fine

Fines can be imposed on the offender depending on the offence made and the offender’s financial situation. Parents of children under 16 years old are responsible for the payment of such fines.

Young offenders in court

If the police decide the matter should go to court, the individual will be charged and the case will go to the Youth Court (a type of magistrates’ court for young offenders) or the Crown Court if the offence is more serious.

The identity of a child aged between 10 and 17 charged with a crime must not be disclosed outside the court. If they are 16 or under, their parents, guardians or carers must attend court. Proceedings for young offenders aim to be less formal than adult courts with the offender called by his/ her first name; judges and counsel dealing with young offenders in Crown Court may take off their wigs and robes; and the public are not allowed to enter the court. 

While the court proceedings are ongoing, the court may decide whether to give the young offender one of the following:

  • conditional bail – this requires the young offender to report to a police station on regular periods. Conditional bail is designed to ensure the individual will appear in court during its hearings and to prohibit him or her from reoffending while on bail;
  • unconditional bail – the defendant must appear in court on the specific dates; no other conditions are attached;
  • remand to a local authority accommodation – the court tasks a local authority with looking after the young individual while case is ongoing, The local authority can decide on the accommodation terms it will provide;
  • secure remand – given to a young individual who has a serious offence or has a record of multiple offences, secure remand places the individual in the custody of secure training centres or secure children’s homes.

Sentences

Once the young individual pleads guilty or is convicted, s/he is sentenced by the court. This could include:

  • absolute discharge – this is a sentence of the court but involves no punishment being meted out;
  • conditional discharge – an offender will not be punished for an offence unless they offend again; if they do reoffend, they will be returned to court and re-sentenced for the original offence and for the new offence;
  • referral order – the offender must attend a youth offender panel and agree a contract, containing specified commitments, which will last between three months and a year;
  • youth rehabilitation order – a community sentence, this can include one or more requirements that the offender must comply with for up to three years. Requirements include a drug or mental health treatment, a curfew, supervision, unpaid work, electronic monitoring, and education requirements.
  • detention and training order – this involves custody at a secure training centres, secure children’s homes or young offender institutions. These last for between four months and two years;
  • extended detention – longer term detention can be given where: the offence carries a maximum sentence of at least 14 years’ imprisonment; the offence is listed in s 91 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act, 2000; there is a significant risk of serious harm to the public from the young person committing further specified offences; an offender is convicted or pleads guilty to murder.