SCYJ submission to Fit for the Future courts consultation

SCYJ responded to the HM Courts and Tribunals Service consultation “Fit for the future: transforming the court and tribunal estate”.

SCYJ has concerns about the general lack of consideration of the distinct needs of children in the future estates strategy, and has grave concerns over the assumption within the strategy that digital services will replace most of the need for physical court appearances, without public consultation or evaluation of digital reforms.

Two recent reviews of the youth justice system (by Lord Carlile of Berriew and Charlie Taylor) have identified serious problems with the court system as it relates to child defendants, particularly around their difficulties with understanding and participating in proceedings. The proposals in the consultation do nothing to address the serious concerns identified, and in fact may make many of the problems significantly worse. This risks undermining children’s right to a fair trial.

SCYJ recommends that the reform programme is put on hold until sufficient assessment and public consultation has occurred on the impact of the proposals on child defendants’ access to justice.

You can read our submission here.

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SCYJ releases report and open letter on video links and child defendants

“They just don’t understand what’s happened or why”: A report on child defendants and video links

SCYJ has published a report which suggests the rights of child defendants to a fair trial are being compromised by the government’s drive to use video links in court hearings.

It is believed to be cheaper to have an under-18-year-old defendant take part in a court hearing from prison than it is to transport them to court. The child may say they prefer it to travelling for hours in a prison van too. But the reality is that children accused of crimes already struggle to understand what is happening in court when they are there in person, not least because so many have communication difficulties. Video link makes this problem worse. Not only are they much less likely to understand, they can neither consult their lawyer properly nor communicate with the judge in the court. The research also indicates that children who appear via video are much less likely to appreciate the seriousness of the situation or present themselves well, prejudicing their outcomes at court.

The SCYJ has gathered evidence that video links are being used extensively with child defendants. Recently a 17-year-old boy received a ten year sentence while on video link, while video links are commonly used for remand hearings. The SCYJ calls for a halt to government plans for children to be involved in totally virtual hearings (with no one in the court room) and to the use of video links in general (save for the most exceptional circumstances) until their effects are better understood.

A range of organisations including Liberty, The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, The Criminal Bar Association, both YOT Managers’ Associations and a range of leading academics share the SCYJ’s concerns about the effect on access to justice of video links for child defendants and have signed an open letter.  Ali Wigzell, Chair of the SCYJ said: “Our report suggests that video link is bad for the child defendants involved, bad for victims and bad for society. What hope is there of getting children to understand what is happening in court or what harm they have done if they are on a video screen hundreds of miles away? The government now has an opportunity to halt these plans. We hope they take heed of these calls before it is too late.”

Read the full report here.
Read the open letter here and below:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Recently a 17-year-old boy was sentenced to prison for ten years. He pleaded guilty but his case overran. The judge decided to sentence the boy by video link early on a Monday morning. His Youth Offending Team officer was not consulted about the use of the video link. The boy will have been alone (save for a prison officer) in a small room at the prison when he heard his sentence, isolated from his lawyer and his family. The evidence shows that children (under 18-year-olds) in court, many of whom have communication problems, struggle to understand what is going on and to participate effectively in proceedings. How much more difficult to do so if you are sat hundreds of miles from the court and separated from everybody there by a video screen? The SCYJ research report, published today, shows that children are not only less likely to understand, but they can neither properly consult with their lawyer, parent or guardian, nor communicate adequately with the judge in court. We are concerned that video link risks making it much harder for children to comprehend the seriousness of their crimes and the harm they have caused. Justice by “skype” has been used with adult defendants since 2000, but has only recently begun to be used with child defendants. It is being deployed for first appearances, remand and sentencing hearings, despite strong indications that it impedes children’s participation in the process, prejudices outcomes and undermines the seriousness of proceedings. The government are pressing ahead with proposals to increase the use of video links for child defendants as part of the digital court reform programme and have even suggested that they should plead guilty to serious crimes on their mobile phones. There is no research on the effect on child defendants of being disconnected from the physical court. We call on the government to halt the expansion of justice by skype or mobile for child defendants until we know its effects. Until then, we argue for a firm presumption against the use of video links for child defendants, save for the most exceptional circumstances.

Yours sincerely,

  • Gess Aird, Director, Kinetic Youth
  • Dr Raymond Arthur, Head of Subject (Law), Northumbria School of Law
  • Bob Ashford, Founder, WipetheSlateClean
  • Dr Tim Bateman, Reader in Youth Justice, University of Bedfordshire
  • Bird and Co Solicitors
  • Anthony Book, Treasurer, Standing Committee for Youth Justice
  • Professor Mary Bosworth, Director, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford
  • Phil Bowen, Director, Centre for Justice Innovation
  • BSB Solicitors
  • Kate Bulman, Registered Nurse
  • Professor Steve Case, Loughborough University
  • Joanne Cecil, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers
  • Louise King, Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE)
  • Dave Clarke, Chair, Secure Accommodation Network (SAN)
  • Criminal Bar Association
  • Peter Dawson, Director, Prison Reform Trust
  • Anne-Marie Day, University of Wolverhampton
  • Anne-Marie Douglas, CEO, Peer Power
  • John Drew, Chair, Criminal Justice Alliance
  • Caroline Dyer, Chair, YOT Managers Cymru
  • Kathy Evans, CEO, Children England
  • Natasha Finlayson, CEO, Become
  • Rhona Friedman, Solicitor, Commons Law
  • Kamini Gadhok, CEO, Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists
  • Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe, Director, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge
  • Penelope Gibbs, Director, Transform Justice
  • Professor Barry Goldson, Charles Booth Chair of Social Science, University of Liverpool
  • Pippa Goodfellow, Senior Lecturer in Youth Justice, Nottingham Trent University
  • Dr Faith Gordon, Director, Youth Justice Network, and Lecturer in Criminology, University of Westminster.
  • Dr Di Hart, Children’s Services Consultant
  • Tom Hawker-Dawson, Bye-Fellow in Law, Downing College, University of Cambridge.
  • Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth, Newcastle Law School
  • Professor Mike Hough, Birkbeck, University of London
  • Professor Carolyn Hoyle, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford
  • Dr Jessica Jacobson, Director, Institute for Criminal Policy Research
  • Peter Jones, Director of Social Justice and Rehabilitation, Catch22
  • Lorraine Khan, Associate Director for Children and Young People, Centre for Mental Health
  • Dr Caroline Lanskey, Lecturer in Applied Criminology, University of Cambridge
  • Caroline Liggins, Solicitor, Hodge Jones & Allen LLP
  • Ross Little, Chair, National Association for Youth Justice (NAYJ)
  • London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association
  • Yvonne MacNamara, CEO, The Traveller Movement
  • Richard Mold, Director, Devon Young People’s Trust
  • Catherine O’Neill, Chair, Intermediaries for Justice
  • Mary O’Shaugnessy, Consultant
  • Professor Nicola Padfield, Professor of Criminal and Penal Justice, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Jo Phoenix, Chair of Criminology, Open University
  • Joe Russo, CEO, The Enthusiasm Trust
  • Professor Hannah Smithson, Professor of Criminology and Youth Justice, Manchester Metropolitan University.
  • Enver Solomon, CEO, Just for Kids Law
  • Martha Spurrier, Director, Liberty
  • Christopher Stacey, Co-Director, Unlock
  • Gary Stephenson, CEO, Restorative Solutions
  • Greg Stewart, Director, GT Stewart Solicitors & Advocates
  • Jacob Tas, CEO, Nacro
  • John Tenconi, Chair, Michael Sieff Foundation
  • Lesley Tregear, Chair, Association of YOT Managers
  • George Turner, CEO, Carney’s Community
  • Alexandra Wigzell, Chair, Standing Committee for Youth Justice

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SCYJ submission to the Home Office consultation on PACE Code C

SCYJ has made a submission to the Home Office consultation on the revision of PACE code C, which outlines requirements for the detention, treatment and questioning of suspects in police custody.

SCYJ has concerns over changes to the definition of vulnerable adult: it is important that it is made clear that the protections and procedures that apply to vulnerable adults apply equally to children with vulnerabilities.

SCYJ welcomes the fact that the revised Code seeks to define the role of the Appropriate Adult, and makes recommendations to improve the definition.

SCYJ has concerns over the use of video link to conduct interviews and reviews of detention, namely that the use of live link can damage a child’s ability to participate effectively and can interfere with the ability to accurately judge a child’s welfare and vulnerabilities. Safeguards are needed to ensure live link is only used when appropriate.

SCYJ has serious concerns about the use of voluntary interviews due to safeguards that apply to children in police custody not being applied to voluntary or home interviews. We welcome the provision of information about rights and entitlements to suspects in advance of a voluntary interview, but seek further clarifications and safeguards.

You can read our submission here.

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