Assisting young people aged 16 and 17 in court

A toolkit for local authorities, the judiciary, court staff, police, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and service providers.

Appendix 7

Court Programming: Examples of good practice

Dedicated Youth Courts

Youth Courts were established in Hamilton (2003) and Airdrie (2004) with the objectives of:

  • reducing the frequency and seriousness of re-offending by 16 and 17 year olds, particularly persistent offenders;
  • promoting the social inclusion, citizenship and personal responsibility of these young offenders while maximising their potential;
  • establishing fast track procedures for those young persons appearing before the Youth Court;
  • enhancing community safety, by reducing the harm caused to individual victims of crime and providing respite to those communities which are experiencing high levels of crime; and
  • testing the viability and usefulness of a Youth Court using existing legislation and to demonstrate whether legislative and practical improvements might be appropriate. [72]
  • Key features of the Youth Courts included:
  • supervision by multi-disciplinary teams and the availability of a range of additional programmes;
  • fast tracking of young people to and through the courts and fast track breach procedures (The target was for trials to start within 42 days and for those offenders sentenced to community disposals to be on supervision within 2 months of the commission of the offence or date of detection);
  • the ability to electronically monitor as a condition of bail;
  • dedicated staff to support and service the Youth Courts (Procurator Fiscal, clerk, social work);
  • additional resources across agencies to enable provision of a consistent, high quality service;
  • the formation of multi-agency Youth Court Advisory Fora in Hamilton and Airdrie, each chaired by a Sheriff, to review the working and operation of the courts; and
  • appointment of a Youth Court Co-ordinator and Deputy Co-ordinator to service the forum and co-ordinate practice.

The 2006 evaluation of the Hamilton and Airdrie pilots reported that:

"Professionals associated with the pilot Youth Courts were, on the whole, cautiously optimistic that it would help to reduce re-offending among at least some of those who participated in it, so long as they were able to access the necessary resources to address problems such as drug and alcohol misuse, unemployment and housing issues […]."

"In Airdrie, police respondents were particularly positive about the effectiveness of the Youth Court. They felt that the fast tracking process and knowledge amongst those being brought to court that they would go to trial without delay was having an impact. They also felt that options available to the Youth Court prior to and following sentencing, most noticeably the curfews, were having a positive impact on communities. They reported that there had been a noticeable decline in public disorder in particular areas, which they attributed to a small number of young people having been in custody and to the use of bail curfews."

"Factors that professionals regarded as having contributed to the effectiveness of the Youth Courts included the fast-tracking of cases, the availability of a wider range of appropriate resources and services and the option of shrieval review. Inter-agency commitment and co-operation was also regarded as having helped make the Youth Courts more effective."

The 2006 evaluation was conducted too early to gauge the extent to which the pilots had met their objective of reducing offending behaviour, and a further analysis of this was undertaken, and published in April 2010. [73] That report of that analysis concluded that:

"[…] in both Hamilton and Airdrie, cases sentenced in the Youth Courts were less likely to be reconvicted than those sentenced in the Sheriff Summary Court. It appears that in Hamilton and in Airdrie this cannot simply be accounted for by differences in the criminal histories of those sentenced in each court, since the differences in 2 year reconviction rates persist when comparisons are drawn only between cases involving young people offending for the first time. … On the other hand, the fact that reconviction among cases from both Youth Courts was no lower than in the comparator court with the most similar cases (Ayr) raises questions about the impact of the Youth Court on recidivism: given similar cases, if the Youth Courts were reducing recidivism then reconviction rates among Youth Court cases should have been significantly lower that among cases from Ayr."

However the author of the report cautioned against drawing firm conclusions because of the low numbers of cases involved.

Scottish Government's covering paper recognised that all involved with the Youth Courts commended the use of dedicated fiscals, shrieval reviews, intensive social work interventions, and good working relationships between agencies, and most agreed on the benefits of fast tracking cases through court, and the provision of a separate court for young people. However, it was noted that "The average additional processing cost per Youth Court case prior to imposition of sentence is therefore £2,090" and that the average cost for community disposals was "an average of £14,641 per person in addition to the basic cost of standard community interventions", and concluded that the Youth Court was thus a very expensive option.

The publication of that report prompted a review of the youth courts in Hamilton and Airdrie, and Ministers decided to continue to fund both courts for a further two years until 31 March 2012. During that period Scottish Government is working with local stakeholders to draw on the experience gained so far to ensure that the youth courts are as effective as they can be and to learn the lessons of problem solving practice in a way which can be applied more widely. Further development includes work to:

  • realign the youth courts to ensure their focus is narrowed to ensure that net widening does not occur;
  • produce an evidenced breakdown of costs, clearly identifying what interventions add value;
  • achieve cost savings where possible, and divert resources into more effective interventions; and draw on the best practice and lessons from specialist courts to develop a toolkit for other courts.
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