The criminal justice system treats children and young people differently from adults and significant weight must be attached to the age of the suspect if they are a child or young person under 18.
Age of criminality
The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years old. This means that children under 10 can’t be arrested or charged with a crime. There are other punishments that can be given to children under 10 who break the law.
Children between 10 and 17 can be arrested and taken to court if they commit a crime.
Identity of children accused of a crime
The identity of a child aged between 10 and 17 charged with a crime will not be disclosed outside the court.
Those permitted inside the court include the usual participants in cases heard in court; ranging from officers of the court, to the parties, parents and guardians, and bona fide members of the press.
Reporting restrictions include not revealing the name, home address or school of any young person concerned in the proceedings, or particulars – including photographs - which may make identifying them likely.
They will remain anonymous throughout proceedings but these restrictions can be challenged – usually by the media – after proceedings have ended.
Process of youth court
The Youth Court is a type of magistrates' court which deals with young people. Cases in the Youth Court are either dealt with by three magistrates or a single district judge, sitting alone.
This type of court differs from adult criminal proceedings in a number of ways, for example the proceedings are designed to be less formal, the public are not permitted to enter the court and defendants are addressed by their first name. If the victim(s) wishes to observe the proceedings they are obliged to make a request to the court.
Youth courts deal with offences including theft and burglary, anti-social behaviour and drugs offences. More serious offences are usually transferred to Crown Court but can be dealt with in Youth court
How young offenders are dealt with in court
Young offenders are dealt with differently in the courts compared to adults with defendants referred to by their first names. If they are 16 or under, their parents, guardians or carers must attend court. In more serious cases that come to Crown Court, prosecuting and defending counsel as well as the judge, may take off their wigs and robes during proceedings to put the defendants at ease.