When a child or young person appears in the youth court, the whole system can be complicated and scary. The rules on youth court sentences can be difficult to understand. We understand that this is a problem and have produced a free guide to youth court sentencing below.
Youth Court Sentencing – basic rules and main types of sentence
There is a general principle in youth court sentencing that a youth should be sentenced according to the rules that applied to him or her when the offence took place, not according to the age he or she is when the court hearings take place. This can mean that a youth (but not a persistent offender) who was 14 at the date of the offence and 15 at the date of sentence should not receive a detention and training order even though he is now old enough to get one because at the date of the offence he was not old enough to get one.
Youth courts, depending on among other things the age of the youth, have the power to give the orders and other penalties listed below when sentencing a youth. Youth court sentences available are in categories:
- First Tier Penalties
- Community Penalties
- Custodial Sentences
- Ancillary Orders
First tier penalties are the most lenient type of penalty, and are appropriate for first time offenders or where the offence is less serious. First tier youth court sentences include the following options:
1) The Absolute and Conditional Discharge
If the youth court feels that a punishment should not be given they can order an absolute discharge or a conditional discharge. If an absolute discharge is imposed, then that is the end of the matter. This is the most lenient sentence in youth court sentencing. If the court orders a conditional discharge then no punishment will be imposed if the defendant
does not commit another offence during a set period of time. A conditional discharge can last up to three years.
2) Referral Order
A referral order is a ‘contract’ that a youth has with a group of 3 adults called a youth offender panel. The youth meets with the panel over the length of the order so that they can address the offending behaviour and try to repair some of the damage caused.
The youth court must make a referral order if the youth has never been convicted before of any other offence in the UK, the offence is imprisonable and not an offence with a sentence fixed by law. Additionally the youth would have had to have pleaded guilty to the offence being sentenced and the youth court must feel that other youth court sentences such as an absolute discharge or custodial sentence are not appropriate.
A referral order is usually between 3 and 12 months long.
In youth court sentencing, the maximum fine that can be given to someone under 14 years old is £250. If the youth is over 13 and under the age of 18 the maximum fine is £1,000. The size of the fine will depend on the seriousness of the offence to be sentenced and how much the youth can pay. If the youth is under 16 the youth court must order that the fine is paid by the parent or guardian if this is possible.
4) Reparation Order
If the offence to be sentenced does not have a fixed sentence the youth court can demand that the youth makes reparation either to an individual victim or the community at large. This means doing something that makes up the damage caused to the victim or the whole community. Before making this order a written report is needed usually from the YOT.
Community penalties are more serious penalties. They do not usually restrict the freedom of the youth in the same way as being in custody does, but they do mean that they have to complete certain requirements, such as attendance on courses, staying at home on a curfew, or doing work in the community. The main community penalty is the Youth Rehabilitation Order:
Youth Rehabilitation Order with Requirements
A youth rehabilitation order is a community sentence which combines certain requirements, and is designed to make sentencing easier for young people to understand. The types of requirements that a court can impose include: a curfew requirement, an education requirement, a local authority residence requirement, or a supervision requirement.
The youth court would have to cancel an existing youth rehabilitation order at the youth court sentence hearing if it wanted to give a new one.
A youth rehabilitation order can run for a maximum of three years. All the requirements will have to complied with in that time.
Custodial Sentences – More Serious Youth Court Sentences
A custodial sentence is a sentence that restricts the freedom of the youth by sending them to:
- a young offender institution
- a secure training centre
- a secure children’s home
Young offender institutions are run by the prison service, and are often housed next door to or in the same building as an adult prison (although the inmates of each do not mix). Secure training centres are smaller and accommodate more the individual needs of the youths there. Secure children’s homes are run by the local authority and are run in a similar way to local authority children’s homes. The main type of custodial sentence is a detention and training order.
Detention and Training Order
A detention and training order (DTO) is an order that sends a youth to custody. Lengths of sentence can go from 4 months to 2 years. The sentence is split into two halves. The first is spent in custody, and the second is spent under the supervision of the Youth Offending Team in the community.
The youth court must obtain a written report before making a detention and training order unless it has a recent report. The report will help the youth court to decide if a detention and training order is needed and to decide how long the order should be. If this is a possibility then the young person or child should be represented by a lawyer with expertise in youth court sentencing. These are harsh outcomes to be avoided and imprisoning children is rarely productive.
These are extra orders that can be added to youth court sentences where the court thinks this is a good idea. They include the following sentence options:
The youth court must consider making an order for compensation in any case where there has been an injury, or loss/damage as a result of the offence that is being sentenced. If the youth does not have much money then a compensation order must be give preference over a fine or costs. The rules on who pays the compensation are the same as the rules outlined above for who pays a fine – under 16s’ fines are usually paid by parents or guardians.
The youth court can order the youth to pay prosecution costs within reason. The costs in the cases of under 16s will usually be ordered to be paid by parents or guardians. Prosecution costs should not normally be a larger amount than the fine imposed if the youth has to pay him or herself.
3) Parental Bind Overs and Parenting Orders
As part of the youth court sentencing process, the court can ‘bind over’ parents and guardians to make sure that they keep their child under control and also that he or she complies with their community sentence. This means that they will be fined an amount of anywhere up to £1000 (the maximum fine that can later be triggered) will be added if they do not keep control of their child. The child must be under 16 and the order can last up to 3 years. The parent or guardian can refuse to be bound over but they can be fined up to £1,000 if they refuse.
Parenting orders are orders which require parents to attend courses and guidance sessions with their child over a period of time. They may also have to make sure their child is at home in the evenings, or does not go to certain places. The parent or guardian cannot refuse to be subject to a parenting order. It lasts for 12 months.
4) Anti-Social Behaviour Orders
An anti-social behaviour order can be made either following a complaint or after a conviction for a criminal offence. It would take place after a conviction. Anti-social behavior orders are complex. We recommend getting in touch with a youth court specialist criminal solicitor if you need more information.