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Criminal Justice

New approach to young adults in court could cut reoffending and create fewer victims of crime

A new report, published today by the Centre for Justice Innovation and the Transition to Adulthood Alliance, suggests that a fairer and more distinct approach to how courts deal with young adults could reduce reoffending, meaning fewer victims of crime.

The report  ‘A fairer way: procedural fairness for young adults at court’ sets out a blueprint for a new approach to 18-25 year olds in court, developed over the last two years by criminal justice practitioners, as well as young adults themselves, in five areas of England and Wales. These areas have worked with the Centre for Justice Innovation to develop a model that could be delivered within current law and at no extra cost to the public.

This new approach has the support of the Police and Crime Commissioners of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, the West Midlands, and South Wales, who, in a joint letter to Justice Secretary David Gauke MP today, state “This innovative multi-agency approach has the potential to benefit not only the young adults but the criminal justice system as a whole. The chance for change is likely to be higher for these young people before their pattern of offending becomes more entrenched. There is a high degree of local enthusiasm in each of our areas for the pilots and much thought has been put into how the pilots could work in practice.”

The Ministry of Justice and the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, along with the judiciary, have recently announced they are exploring the potential for a young adult appropriate court in London.

The adapted court model draws upon scientific international research that has shown young adults’ brain development and maturity makes them a group distinct from both children and from fully mature adults. It recommends ways to make court processes more understandable and more transparent for young adult defendants. The proposed changes are based on ‘procedural fairness’ evidence that suggests a more understandable and fairer court process is likely to increase young adults’ compliance with court orders and reduce young adults’ likelihood of committing further offences.

These proposed changes have the support of the influential House of Commons Justice Select Committee, which in their 2017 report on young adults in the criminal justice system said, there is a strong case for a distinct approach to the treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system… The potential of young adult courts are worth testing.” Moreover, the recent report by David Lammy MP on trust of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic defendants in the criminal justice system stressed that “To build trust, the challenge is to demystify decision making processes and bring them out into the open, so they can be better understood.”

Phil Bowen, the Centre’s Director said; “The evidence behind procedural fairness is simple — people are more likely to obey a court’s decision when the court process is made more understandable and more transparent. The model outlined in this report offers a clear way forward to making this happen in practice.