If a child commits a crime and is apprehended by the police, they may receive a criminal conviction depending on the circumstances.
How do police deal with children?
If the police think that a young person has been involved in a crime, they can stop them anywhere in public; however, if they go to their home, they should speak to the parents or carer first. If the police arrest someone under 18 and take them to the police station, they must tell their parent or carer as soon as possible. They should not interview the child until the parent or carer is present. If they are unable to go to the police station, an ‘appropriate adult’ should be requested – this may be a family member, a friend over 18, a volunteer or a social worker
If a young person is arrested, they or their parent or carer may wish to speak to a solicitor.
Criminal proceedings against children
Children under ten years old cannot be charged with a criminal offence. However, all young people between the ages of ten and 18 are treated the same.
If the child has committed only a minor offence and it is the first time they have behaved anti-socially or got into trouble with the police, they may not have to go to court. Instead, the police may give them a ‘pre-court order’, which means they’ll be officially reprimanded or given a warning. This will be recorded as a criminal record.
The police may, if there is enough evidence and the offence is of a more serious nature or the child is a repeat offender, decide to charge them. If they are charged, they will either be remanded on bail or remanded in custody. They will then have to go to a youth court and, for more serious offences, the youth court will refer the case to the Crown Court.
A youth court is less formal than an adult court and members of the public are not allowed in the courtroom. The hearing will take place with the child being accompanied by their parent or carer, a defence solicitor (if they have one) and sometimes a member of the local youth offending team. The case will be heard and determined by 3 magistrates, or a District Judge. The child will have to either ‘admit’ or ‘deny’ the charge against them.
If the child is convicted of the crime in court, the court will either give them a custodial or a community sentence.
These are usually given to children who have been convicted of their first or a minor crime. Community sentences include the following:
- A fine: parents or carers of children under 16 will have to pay this.
- Referral order: given to children who have admitted the crime and for whom it is their first offence. The sentence will last between three and 12 months and will be aimed at preventing the child from re-offending. It will involve members of their community and sometimes their victims who will work together to agree a set of rules the child must follow.
- Reparation Order: to repair the damage caused by the crime, which usually take 24 hours.
- Youth Rehabilitation Order: this can last up to three years and may include curfews, drug treatment, or orders excluding the offender from certain areas.
Children may be sentenced to a term in prison if the crime is very serious, they are a repeat offender, or they are considered to be a risk to the public. Depending on the crime, some sentences could be for life, or some could involve a prison sentence followed by supervised release.
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