Call for courts to take maturity into account

Topics: Criminal justice,Family and children

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The criminal justice system should take into account the developmental maturity of young adults with the creation of specialist courts, a thinktank has said.

The standard adult court process produces a number of barriers to understanding and engagement for defendants aged between 18-24, according to the Centre for Justice Innovation and Transition to Adulthood Alliance’s report, Young Adults in Court: developing a tailored approach

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Barriers include complex and technical language, and a formal and intimidating setting, which contribute to an ‘often bewildering’ experience.

Research on brain development in young adulthood suggests that impulse control, reasoning and decision-making capabilities are in formation until the mid-20s, the report states.

It acknowledges that aspects of justice system practice in England and Wales have adjusted accordingly. Since 2011 adult sentencing decisions have included maturity as a mitigating factor. From 2013 the Crown Prosecution Service began taking maturity into account as part of its public interest test.

‘However, the court system to which someone is allocated continues to be driven purely by the chronological age of the defendant, rather than in specific response to individuals’ developmental maturity or needs,’ the report says.

‘We now know that young adults are a developmentally distinct population. A chronological split between jurisdictions based on Edwardian evidence no longer reflects contemporary evidence.’

The report recommends that a young-adult court be piloted in the UK.

Features would include a specialist list, specialist judges and magistrates presiding over hearings, family involvement, adapting existing youth court courtroom language and communication, and an adapted courtroom environment.

Several ‘essential’ stakeholders, including the National Probation Service, support the trial of a young-adult court. However, there had been no ‘substantive’ conversation with court service administrators, the report says.

’Given that many of the proposed changes would require their support and involvement, this is a particularly significant issue that would need to be resolved.’

Readers' comments (8)

  • On the basis of this report should the age of majority, consent, eligibility to vote, etc. concomitantly be raised to somewhere in the mid-twenties? Or is this another argument that people should enjoy the benefits without having to accept the responsibility of adulthood?

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  • One could of course bring back the birch.

    Particularity according to her, for one young lady (?) my friend caught weeing on her drive after too much booze t'other day ....

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  • It is meant to be an intimidating setting. As a defendant it is hoped that you won't want to go back. It is formal too - you committed a crime and it is about the administration of justice, how informal should that be? Should they just call the Judge "mate"?

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  • It seems to me that the money would be a lot better spent for the benefit of us all if it was used to re-introduce a two year slot of National Service for 18-24 year olds. Nothing to do with learning to kill but everything to do with learning to respect authority, oneself and other people. To unpick the selfish egocentric culture society has increasingly become, especially since the 1980s. In a regime where authority does matter and where there are real sanctions for breaches of the code, teach those who cannot, to read and write, a trade, gain qualifications and be an asset to society instead of a drag upon it.
    This proposed court will simply be used as another reason not to hold young adults responsible for their own actions. It's liberal hocus pocus.

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  • National Service is a toxic and reactionary thing. Respect has to be earned. However, obedience can be instilled, and would more readily be so if parents were not threatened with convictions for punishing their children.

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  • ‘We now know that young adults are a developmentally distinct population. A chronological split between jurisdictions based on Edwardian evidence no longer reflects contemporary evidence.’
    What does this gibberish mean?

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  • @Shaun Ryan. It means: "Young adults are a separate group from children or adults. Having only two groups in the legal system (child or adult, as was first done in Edwardian times), isn't supported by modern science." With respect, not that difficult to understand.

    Do we not already have a tripartite system? We have children (below the age of criminal responsibility), young adults (up to 18) and then adults (18+). The first poster (anon @4.00pm) suggests that responsibility should follow benefits. The current system imposes a lot more responsibility a lot earlier than any corresponding benefits (we have one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the developed world).

    Perhaps we should raise the ages of criminal responsibility and adulthood as applied by the law? Or would that be too controversial?

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  • At 24 I was a qualified solicitor buying my own house.

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