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Youth offending

Advice and support for young people who have offended and are going through the court system or are at risk of offending.

Youth Offending Service

The Youth Offending Service (YOS) is a multi-agency team which works with young people and families to address factors that lead to offending behaviour (age 10 to 17).

The YOS is made up of practitioners from:

  • council staff
  • police
  • London Community Rehabilitation Company
  • drug and alcohol service
  • children and adults mental health services (CAMHS).

The YOS also works closely with children’s social services and community safety.

The role of the YOS includes:

  • working with young people who have been convicted of offences
  • working with young people who have received out of court disposals
  • helping young people and their families at court
  • working with the parents of young people who offend
  • working with the victims of crime
  • supervising young people serving a community sentence
  • working with a young person if they’re sentenced to custody

It outlines processes that young people may become involved in and provides information to their parents or carers as well as their victims.

Before attending court Toggle accordion

If you're charged with a crime you may need to attend court. Make sure your parents check to see if you're entitled to legal aid.

Your solicitor

A solicitor represents you in court and gives you advice about what to do there. If you're able to get one before your case they will also talk to you before you go to court and tell you what will happen in the court room.

If you can’t get a solicitor before your case then when you arrive at court tell the usher you need to use the duty solicitor. There is always a solicitor in court who can represent you.

What to wear

You should try to look as smart as you can in court. If you have a white shirt and dark trousers or a skirt as part of your school uniform you can wear those.

Wear smart shoes instead of trainers and try to avoid wearing anything ripped or revealing if you can. Make sure your trousers are pulled up instead of sitting low. You are not allowed to wear hats in the court room.

Tips for attending court

Mencap's video, Raising Your Game - Getting ready for court, has useful advice for young people attending court.

What to expect in court and how to behave in the court room Toggle accordion

Most cases where a young person is charged will be heard in youth court, which takes place on Wednesday every week. For a morning court appearance you should arrive at 9:30am. For an afternoon appearance, you should arrive at 1:30pm.

Attending court

Report to the court usher when you arrive at court, they'll normally be holding a clipboard. They'll ask your name and who is representing you. If there is not anyone representing you they'll arrange for the duty solicitor to represent you. They will then tell you where to wait and in which court the case will be heard.

In the court room

Only parents, carers and close relatives like grandparents may go into the courtroom. Friends have to wait outside. There's a public gallery in the courtroom but it is closed and no one is allowed into it during youth court.

How the courtroom is set out for youth court is shown in our youth court layout map.

Youth court layout

Your case will be heard by either a district judge or at least two lay magistrates. Your solicitor, the prosecutor for the crown and the clerk to the court who manages the business of the court are also present. There will also be staff from the youth offending service and a court usher.

You will sit next to your solicitor in the middle of the room.  If you need a translator they will sit next to you to translate during the proceedings.  If you do not need a translator but your family does they will sit behind you with your family.

When going in to the courtroom you will be shown to a seat and told to sit or stand. You will be asked your name and date of birth and enter a plea: guilty or not guilty. Your solicitor may ask you additional questions. The magistrate may ask your parents what they have done to stop you from offending.

Try to sit smartly in the court room and if you speak be polite and respectful. If you do not understand anything which is being said, put your hand up and ask for it to be explained.

Restorative justice Toggle accordion

Young people could be asked to take part in restorative justice as a part of any pre- or post-court work. Restorative justice makes offenders realise the effect their actions had and shows them how their victims feel.

Restorative justice can involve offenders meeting with their victims to discuss the impact of their offence or writing a letter of apology to their victim. This helps offenders realise how their actions affect other people and stops them from committing further offences, as well as giving victims a sense of closure about their experience.

Reparation

The young person could be ordered to take part in reparation as part of a youth rehabilitation order (YRO) or other disposal.  This is where offenders have to work on projects which benefit the local community, such as painting community halls. This takes away their free time and helps to make amends for their criminal behaviour.

The work they have to do gives them useful skills and college credits which aims to get them into training and education, which can help to move them away from offending. If offenders breach by not attending reparation programs, they can be taken back to court.

Out of court disposals Toggle accordion

Out of court disposals are for low-level offending which does not need prosecution at court, and can be dealt with quickly and easily. The Youth Offending Service aims to reduce the number of young people who enter the criminal justice system if they admit their offence and it is low risk enough to be suitable. 

Triage

Triage means the young person is placed in positive activities and mainstream services to move them away from offending behaviour without criminalising them.

The young person is assessed and an intervention plan is drawn up which they, and their parent or carer, must sign. They must attend appointments which have been arranged for them. If they do not complete the plan then this will be held against them in any future cases.

Caution

Young people can be issued a caution with or without conditions. Cautions are a part of a young person’s criminal record and may show on an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS – formerly CRB) check.  If a young person is given a caution, they will be given a rehabilitation programme by the YOS.

If a caution is given without conditions, there is no penalty for not obeying it but the caution may be mentioned in any future involvement the young person has with the Police or criminal justice agencies. Voluntary interventions can be added to a caution.

If a caution with conditions is issued, the young person must obey these conditions within three months or face summons to court for their offence.

Court orders Toggle accordion

If a young person’s offence is serious enough that they need to attend court, if they do not admit an offence or if they breach their pre-court conditions and are sent to court, they will receive one or more of the following orders, if found guilty.

Referral order

Offenders who are at court for the first time, who have committed low level offences and plead guilty, can be issued with a referral order. If you receive a referral order you will have to spend time at the YOS and there will be a number of requirements or activities that you have to complete. A YOS practitioner will be allocated to you for the whole of the referral order. A referral order lasts between 3 and 12 months.

As part of the order you must attend a regular panel meeting at the YOS office, with volunteers from the local community and a YOS practitioner to discuss why you have offended and how this affected your victim. This panel aims to find interventions which may help you to not offend in the future, including writing a contract, telling you how often you must attend your YOS appointments and what activities you must do during your order.

Next steps

After the referral order has been made, you will receive a letter within a few days telling you and your parent/carer when to attend an appointment with a YOS case manager, who will ask you and your parent/carers some questions. After this, you will get another letter telling you when you have to attend the first referral order panel meeting. At the panel meeting, you will be given your first appointment with your YOS case manager.

When the order ends

If you complete your referral order without any problems or missed appointments, then your conviction will be spent. This means it won’t affect you when you apply for most jobs in the future. If you engage very well with the YOS and attend all your appointments, your YOS worker may decide to take your order back to court and to ask for it to finish early.

Youth rehabilitation order (YRO)

Youth rehabilitation orders are given to young people that have been convicted of a crime in court. If you receive a YRO, you will have to spend time at the YOS and there will be a number of requirements specific to the offender which aim to prevent them from offending again. YROs can last for up to three years

YROs can also be given with intensive supervision and surveillance (ISS), the highest level of sentence before custody.

Next steps

You will receive a letter within a few days telling you and your parent/carer when to attend your first appointment with your YOS case manager. You will be given a case manager and he/she will meet with you, ask you some questions and write a plan telling you what requirements or activities you must do and how often you must attend your YOS appointments.

Finishing your YRO

When you finish your Youth Rehabilitation Order (YRO) your conviction will not be spent (spent convictions don’t affect you when you apply for most jobs in the future).  You can ask your Youth Offending Service worker what this means and when it does become spent.

If you engage very well with the Youth Offending Service and attend all your appointments, your Youth Offending Service worker may decide to take your order back to court and to ask for it to finish early.

Youth rehabilitation order with intensive supervision and surveillance (YRO with ISS)

A youth rehabilitation order with intensive supervision and surveillance (sometimes called a YRO with ISS, or just ISS) is the same as a youth rehabilitation order, but you must also wear an electronic tag and have your location checked twice a day, at any time. You will have a curfew – this means there will be certain times of the day when you must be at home. You must also attend 25 hours of requirements or activities or YOS appointments every week. This includes 15 hours of education, training and/or employment. You must tell your YOS case manager if you are at school or college or in work so that your appointments can be arranged around this.

Next steps

You will receive a letter within a few days telling you and your parent/carer when to attend your first appointment with your YOS case manager. You will be given a case manager and he/she will meet with you, ask you some questions and write a plan telling you what requirements or activities you must do and how often you must attend your YOS appointments.

You will also be visited at home by someone from an agency who will fit the electronic tag to your ankle. You must not tamper with or damage this in any way. The agency will also install a device in your home which will alert them if you leave your home during the curfew hours that you were given. If you do, this you will be taken back to court

Finishing your YRO with ISS

When you finish your YRO with ISS your conviction will not be spent (spent convictions don’t affect you when you apply for most jobs in the future).  You can ask your YOS worker what this means and when it does become spent.

If you engage very well with the YOS and attend all your appointments, your YOS worker may decide to take your order back to court and to ask for it to finish early.

Conditional discharge

This means the young person is not required to attend any interventions but must stay out of trouble for a set time. If they commit another offence in that period, they will be re-sentenced for the initial and second offences.

Absolute discharge

This means that no action will be taken against the young person due to the circumstances of the case, however this is very rare.

Parenting orders

When a child under 16 has been convicted of an offence, the court is required to make a parenting order if it believes this may stop further offending or antisocial behaviour, unless a referral order has been given. This is because parents of under 16s must attend referral order panels. A parenting order could be given to a young person aged 16 to 17, if it is judged to be in the best interest of the whole family.

Criminal behavioural order (CBO) formerly antisocial behaviour order (ASBO)

CBOs are given when a young person has persistently engaged in antisocial behaviour and has committed criminal acts. The Court can impose whatever measures it feels are needed to stop the person from committing further antisocial behaviour, such as stopping them from entering an area or associating with other named people. They last at least one year and breaching them is a criminal offence which can be punished by custody.

Fines

The court can give a fine of up to £100.

Detention and training order (DTO)

In the most serious cases a DTO can be issued to a young person that has been convicted of a crime in court, where the young person spends time either in custody in a young offenders institution (a secure unit like a prison) or in the community supervised by the YOS. This includes training and education to reduce the chances of them re-offending after release.

A DTO lasts for between 4 and 24 months. You will serve the first half of the DTO in the young offenders institution and the second half at your home. You must attend appointments and activities arranged by your YOS worker during the second half of the DTO.

Next steps

You will be taken directly to the court cells and then taken to the Young Offenders Institution. You will not be allowed to speak to your parent/carer or any of your family. Your YOS case manager will visit you at the young offenders institution within the first two weeks of your sentence to find out how you are getting on and help put a plan in place for when you come out and back into the community.

Finishing your DTO

When you finish your DTO your conviction will not be spent (spent convictions don’t affect you when you apply for most jobs in the future).  You can ask your YOS worker what this means and when it does become spent.

If you engage very well with the YOS and attend all your appointments, your YOS worker may decide to take your order back to court and to ask for it to finish early.

Missing your appointments with the Youth Offending Service Toggle accordion

You must keep all of your YOS appointments. Missed appointments can result in you going back to court. If you have a reason for missing an appointment, you must provide written proof within 24 hours of the missed appointment. Where possible please talk to your supervisor before the appointment so that you can arrange a new time.

Examples of a genuine reason to miss an appointment can include:

  • illness – please bring a doctor’s note or medical certificate
  • work or school or college commitment
  • police station interview
  • court appearance
  • religious commitment
  • major personal event such as death of relative

We are committed to working with you in order to achieve the best possible outcome for you. If there are any reasons which will make it difficult for you to attend sessions, such as locations or appointment times which are unsuitable, please tell your practitioner who will do their best to meet your needs.

Stop and search Toggle accordion

Young people may be stopped and searched by the police. Being stopped does not mean you are under arrest or have done anything wrong. The police often stop and search people in areas where crime has been reported.

A stop

A stop is when a police officer or police community support officer stops you in a public place and asks you to account for yourself and may ask you the following questions:

  • “What are you doing?”
  • “Where have you been?”
  • “Where are you going?”
  • “What are you carrying?”

A stop and search

A stop and search is when a police officer stops and then searches you, your clothes and anything you are carrying. Whether you have been subject to stop and search or not, it is important to know your rights. The Metropolitan Police provides clear guidance on stop and search.

If you are arrested

If the police suspect you have been involved in a crime and you are arrested it is important that you are aware of your rights. The government provides a guide to your rights when being arrested.