Proceedings are heard in a courtroom at the local magistrates’ court, generally before three magistrates. The proceedings lack the formality and pomp of the Crown Court, but it would be wrong to think of them as being informal. Most magistrates take the view that the dignity of proceedings is essential to ensure that young people appreciate the full seriousness of coming before a court. It is also common in most youth courts for the magistrates’ to actively engage with and challenge the young person in relation to their behaviour. That said, there are no wigs or gowns and it is solicitors rather than barristers that generally conduct all of the cases in that court, including the most serious. Sentencing of those found guilty can range from referral orders (in which the court orders the offender to work closely with a panel of professionals in order to address offending behaviour) through to detention for up to two years.
By contrast, serious crimes such as murder, rape, some robberies and other serious offences will generally be dealt with before a judge and jury in the Crown Court. The proceedings are altered slightly in order to provide for a less intimidating environment – proceedings will be conducted with wigs removed, shorter sitting hours and in some cases a less imposing court layout. But the general impact of proceedings in the Crown Court should not be underestimated, nor should the courts powers when it comes to sentence (up to life imprisonment in some cases). Whilst the Crown Court is able to deal more robustly with young defendants, it also works in a much more sympathetic way when the need arises. Lawyers often welcome the idea that young clients end in the Crown Court as they believe that the judge will be more inclined to take a much more balanced approach. To see how a youth court might look, click here.
Thanks to Andrew Keogh, criminal defence lawyer and editor of CrimeLine for his help with this section and an earlier version which appeared in A Parent’s Guide to the Law by Jon Robins (LawPack , 2009). We’re grateful also to Kim Evans for her help.