What happens in the youth court?



This factsheet is intended as a guide for defendants appearing in the youth court. If you are under 18 unless your case is linked with an adult defendant or your case is of a very serious nature (a grave crime; for example murder), your case will be dealt with in the youth court.


Please note for the purpose of this fact sheet we are assuming that your offence is not a grave crime. The discussion of grave crimes is outside of the focus of this fact sheet.

What happens when I arrive at the Youth Court?

You will be searched by security and they will log you in on their list as having arrived. It is important to see the usher as soon as you get to court as generally the earlier you are checked in, the earlier your case will get on. The usher will also take down the name of your appropriate adult. If you have a solicitor you should ask the usher to help you find your solicitor so they know you are there.

Your solicitor will then speak with you in private about your case and advise you: whether the prosecution can prove the case against you; whether you have a defence; whether you should plead guilty or not guilty; what sentence you are likely to get. If you do not have a solicitor and are representing yourself, you should ask the usher to get you a copy of the advance disclosure in your case so that you know what the case is against you (this is the charge sheet, the police report which summarises the case, the witness statements, and your criminal record if you have one).

Don’t forget if you don’t already have a solicitor in most cases you will be entitled to see the court duty solicitor for free.

What happens if I don’t attend court?

Failing to attend court without a reasonable excuse is a separate criminal offence. In practical terms, if you have been bailed to attend court and fail to do so without a reasonable excuse it is likely that the court will issue a warrant for your arrest not backed for bail. This means that you are then at risk of being arrested, kept in a police cell and then taken before the next available court in custody where the court will decide whether to grant you bail or remand you into custody.

If you have a reasonable excuse for why you can’t attend court, for example, you are unwell, you must communicate that to the court and your solicitor (if you have one) in advance of the hearing and you must obtain evidence of the reason why you are unable to attend. For example, If you are unwell you will need to get a doctor’s certificate that specifically states that you are not fit to attend court, why you are not fit and how long you will remain unfit for. Forgetting about the court date,  over sleeping or not having the bus fare are not reasonable excuses for failing to attend court.

When will my case be called on?

Unless you are appearing for a trial, your case will be dealt with in the normal youth court list for that day. The youth court can be extremely busy so be prepared for a long wait at court until your case is actually called on. Most people are bailed to attend court for the same time so unfortunately it is generally a matter of first ready, first on. If someone is appearing before the court in custody, their case will always take priority over those who appear on bail.

Do I need an adult to attend with me?

Yes if you are under 16 the court will require a parent or guardian to attend court with you unless the court is satisfied having regard to the case that it is unreasonable. If you are 16 or 17 the court may require such attendance.

Who will hear my case?

Either a District Judge or by Magistrates, who have been specially trained in dealing with youth court cases.

Who will be present in the court room?


  • The District Judge/Magistrates
  • The court legal advisor (who advises the court on matters of law)
  • The Prosecutor who presents the case for the Crown Prosecution Service
  • Your solicitor/barrister if you are represented
  • Your appropriate adult (see above)
  • A representative from the Youth Offending Service

Do I sit or stand in the court room?

You will be asked to stand whilst you give your name, date of birth, and address, and when you enter any plea. You will also be asked to stand when the magistrates sentence you. Apart from this you will be seated as will all the other persons in the court room.

Apart from giving my personal details and entering my plea, will I have to do any other speaking in the court room?

Sometimes yes. If you have pleaded guilty or are found guilty and are represented your solicitor/barrister will address the court in mitigation on your behalf. The Youth Offending Service will also usually speak to the magistrates about you and what sentence they think is appropriate in your case. Following this the court will often ask to hear from you about the offence and your current circumstances. It can of course be daunting to speak in court but just take your time and if you are sorry for what you have done now is the best time to say it. This is a good opportunity for you to get yourself over to the magistrates and anything you can say about yourself and why you have done what you did and perhaps most importantly, how you feel about it now will often sound far more convincing coming from you, than from your lawyer. Don’t be rude or sarcastic to the magistrates, remember they are about to sentence you and for obvious reasons, it won’t help you!

If you have are having a trial, you will have the option of giving evidence at your trial. Please see our separate trial factsheet. In summary, this is your chance to put across your account and then the prosecutor would cross-examine you.

What happens if I plead not guilty to one or more offences?

Your case will be listed for a trial to take place at the Youth Court at a later date. You should be aware that your trial will often be double booked with other trials which means that there is a risk that, that other trial will take priority to yours and that there will be insufficient time for the court to deal with your trial on that day.. If this happens then your trial will be adjourned to another date and in most cases it will be given a priority listing meaning that it should go ahead on the next occasion.

What is the procedure for a Youth Court trial?

Please see our factsheet on trial procedure in the adult Magistrates Court. The only real difference for youth court trial is that everyone remains seated during the trial.

I don’t have any previous convictions, what sentence am I likely to receive?

If you are in court for one offence and plead guilty to it, unless the offence is so serious so as to justify a detention and training order (youth custody) or the court is going to make a hospital order or absolute discharge (which is rare) you will be sentenced to a Referral Order.

If you are in court for more than one offence, and plead guilty to one or more, but not guilty to one or more other charges, the court still has the power to make a Referral Order in respect of your guilty pleas.

What is a Referral Order?

A Referral Order can be made for between 3-12 months. You will have to go and see a Youth Offending Service Panel who will draw up a contract for you to sign and the Youth Offending Service will give you requirements to complete under the Order. If you fail to comply with the Order your case is likely to be returned to court and you run the risk of having the Order revoked and you being re-sentenced for the original offence to a more intense order. An advantage of a Referral Order over any other court order is that when you have completed the Order it becomes a ‘spent conviction’ meaning that if you are asked in the future if you have any convictions you can quite properly say no, unless you are asked about spent convictions.

I have previously been sentenced to a Referral Order and am appearing in court again, can the court extend my Referral Order if I plead guilty?

If the new offence took place before the Referral Order was made then yes, the court may extend the Referral Order.

If the new offence was committed after the Referral Order was made, the court may extend the Referral Order, but only if the court is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances for doing so.

I have finished my Referral Order and am appearing in court for a new offence, can I receive a second Referral Order?

Yes (if you plead guilty). The court can impose a second Referral Order if they find there are exceptional circumstances.

I have been convicted before but not sentenced to a Referral Order, if I plead guilty to the new offence(s) can I receive a Referral Order?

Yes, the court may impose a Referral Order.

What sentence will I receive if I am not eligible for a Referral Order?

If you are not eligible for a Referral Order, the court will either put your case back to later in the day, or adjourn it to a later day to enable the Youth Offending Service to prepare a report to assist the court on sentencing.

If the court deems your case so serious so as to only justify custody, you will be sentenced to what is called a Detention and Training Order. The minimum length of such an Order is 4 months, the maximum length is 24 months. You would serve half of the sentence in youth custody, and the other half in the community under supervision by the youth offending service. Such Orders are fairly rare and imposed only where the court has no other realistic sentencing option available to them. In all but the most serious cases, youth custody should only be used as a last resort.

If your case is not so serious as to justify custody, unless you are sentenced to a fine or a conditional/absolute discharge, you will be sentenced to a Youth Rehabilitation Order. Under such an order the court can impose requirements upon you; examples of requirements are a supervision requirement, a curfew requirement, an activity requirement. The maximum length of a Youth Rehabilitation Order is 3 years.

What happens if I breach a Referral Order or commit a new offence whilst I am subject to it?

If you breach a Referral Order by failing to comply with any requirements under it, the court may revoke the Order and re-sentence you for the original offence or allow the Order to continue.

If you are convicted of a further offence when you are already subject to a Referral Order but the new offence was committed before the referral order was actually made the court can extend the Referral Order. If the offence was committed after the Referral Order was made, the court can extend the Order if they find there are exceptional circumstances; otherwise they will revoke the Order and may re-sentence you for the original offence.

What happens if I breach a Youth Rehabilitation Order or commit a new offence whilst I am subject to it?

If you breach a Youth Rehabilitation Order by failing to comply with any of the requirements, the court may amend the Order and include further requirement(s) to it. The court also has the option of simply allowing the Order to continue. Alternatively then can revoke the order and re-sentence you for the original offence/s.

If you are convicted of a further offence whilst you are already subject to a Youth Rehabilitation Order, if the court is considering a Youth Rehabilitation Order for the new offence, your current Order will be revoked and you will be re-sentenced for the old offence alongside sentence for the new offence meaning you will now be subject to one order.

Can the court order my parent/guardian to pay fines/costs/compensation?

Yes. If you are under 16, the court must order any fines/costs/compensation to be paid by your parent or guardian unless they cannot be found or it is unreasonable to do so bearing in mind the circumstances of the case. If you are 16 or over the court has the power to make such an order against you directly.

What is a Parenting Order and when can one be made?

A Parenting Order is an order of the court ordering your parent to comply with requirements, which can include counselling and guidance sessions. Such an order will be made by the court if they find it is desirable to prevent further offences being committed.

If you would like to view the youth court sentence guidelines click here.



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