Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Youth Justice - Venue for Trial

In England and Wales, criminal trials of children (aged 10 to 13) and young offenders (14 to 17 inclusive) normally take place in a Youth Court.  Such courts are a specialist subset of magistrates' courts and the judiciary will be either Justices of the Peace duly authorised under the Courts Act 2003 or a District Judge (Magistrates' Courts).  Youth Courts are not open to the general public.  Occasionally, either a child or young person will stand trial in the Crown Court with all the greater formality (judge and jury etc).  The law relating to when a trial in the Crown Court is appropriate has been considered by way of judicial review on a number of occasions, notably in R ( H, A and O) v Southampton Youth Court [2004] EWHC 2912 (Admin) - (see, in particular, paras 33-35).   Trial venue can be a difficult decision and the law is, to say the least, complex.  The general aim of the system is to avoid Crown Court trial but, in some instances the law requires it in relation to very serious offending.   The CPS website has a summary of the various provisions - see Youth Offenders.

Mrs Justice Andrews gave judgment in  BH (A Child) v Llandudno Youth Court.  I encourage the reader to look at the whole of the judgment.   BH, aged 11 at the time of the alleged offence, was charged with a single count under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 s8(1) and (3) - causing or inciting a boy under age 13 to engage in a sexual act of a non-penetrative nature, namely to suck on his penis. See para. 4 of the judgment for further details.  The incident is certainly not pleasant in nature but did such alleged conduct require the full panoply of a Crown Court trial?  A District Judge considered that the matter should be handled by the Crown Court.  On a judicial review of that decision, Mrs Justice Andrews, having considered various authorities, held that the District Judge was plainly wrong.

Thanks to Crimeline for the link to the judgment in BH (A Child). Crimeline is an excellent service for any interested in criminal law and practice.

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