The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Kiddy Court

Kiddy Court is the ironic name that some lawyers (and magistrates) use for the Youth Court. In law a youth is somebody aged less than 18, and special rules apply to their treatment.

I have chosen to steer clear of the Youth Court, but many of my colleagues find it rewarding work, and are happy to accept the extensive extra training and appraisal that allows them to sit on Youth cases.

Youth courts do not sit every day, so if a young offender is arrested and held in custody an adult court must deal with bail, and remand him or (much less often) her to the next Youth Court sitting. In these cases the defendant must be accompanied by a parent or, in the absence of one, an Appropriate Adult. They are seated in the well of the court, and we must address them by their first name. If they are jointly charged with an adult (who might only be a matter of months older) we make an order that nothing may be published that might serve to identify a young person.

Youth Courts are closed to the public (but not the Press) and deal with offences that are further up-tariff than adult courts can handle. They may make an order up to 2 years in length, and often do so. I sometimes have a look at the Youth list in the morning and on a bad day it can look like its Old Bailey equivalent - robbery, GBH, and assorted mayhem.

There is sometimes a fuss in the papers (there was one last week) about 'soft' sentences given to young offenders, but the law severely restricts penalties that may be applied to those under 16. That is right in my view, but it does not appeal to the retribution junkies who are so influential these days.

All but the most serious offences committed by youngsters are now dealt with by magistrates, because it is believed, sometimes more in hope than expectation, that up to a certain age there is more to be gained by treatment than the big stick.

This is one of the core questions in the current debate about the principles of criminal justice. I wish I knew the answer.