Youth offending teams urged to link up with magistrates to review orders

By Joe Lepper

| 29 November 2018

Involving magistrates in post sentence reviews for young offenders has the potential to reduce community order breaches and should be adopted nationwide, according to a youth offending service (YOS) that is pioneering the approach.

Northamptonshire YOS holds informal review meetings with young people and magistrates. Picture: Antonioguillem/Adobe Stock

Northamptonshire YOS is the only youth justice team in the country to use the approach, whereby magistrates take part in youth rehabilitation order review meetings with young people.

The informal meetings, which take place out of court, are already showing signs of success among young offenders taking part, who are less likely to breach an order, according to Quentin Goodman, operations manager for the service's court team.

For magistrates, the approach gives them a better insight into the lives of young offenders they are sentencing and greater faith in the value of community orders, he adds.

After being used in Northamptonshire since 2014 the service is now encouraging other areas to adopt the approach. A starter pack to help other youth offending teams (YOTs) developed it was launched at the annual Youth Justice Convention held in Birmingham this week.

The review meetings are held in an informal setting, often the YOS's kitchen. The same magistrates that attend the first review meeting also attend subsequent meetings with the same young person. Magistrates are also given training by the YOS on communicating with young people.

Goodman said: "We all sit around the table in the kitchen. Which is a comfortable setting. We have cups of tea and biscuits. Often when the young person walks into the room, with their YOT worker and maybe mum or dad, the magistrate stands up and offers to make them a cuppa.

"It has that level of informality but it is also businesslike. We review progress on the order with what was set out in the pre-sentence report."

"Children are better motivated to complete their order and there are fewer breaches."

Evaluation of the scheme carried out by Middlesex University in 2015 said that "there are indications the positive support provided within the review panels is producing encouraging results".

It also found that young people feel more engaged in the community order they are serving due to their magistrate's presence and it also helps their self-esteem.

"The encouragement given to them by the YOS case workers and magistrates is powerful in confirming self-worth and raising self-esteem," says the evaluation.

"This is visible in the posture and demeanour of the young people as they depart the panel meetings."

The evaluation adds: "It is also a rich experience for magistrates to hear the accounts and voices of the young people in a more communicative environment than a courtroom."

The approach has secured the backing of the most senior judge in England and Wales Lady Justice Julia Macur.

"The ‘informal' representation of the youth magistracy's continued interest in the young people they sentence cannot be anything other than hugely beneficial to the young people themselves, their families and the community," states Macur in a written endorsement in the starter pack.

"There are added advantages in the re-affirmation of the field workers' efforts and, of course, the ability to reassure the magistracy that the conscientious, and sometimes anxiety provoking, decisions regarding the youth rehabilitation community sentences made by themselves and their fellow judicial officers, are well supported and hence have better prospect of succeeding in reducing re-offending and ensuring reintegration of a young offender into a law-abiding community."

Goodman said that some YOS have previously expressed concerns about adopting the approach, such as a magistrate who attended a review being compromised if the young person appeared before them in court at a later date.

"This now has the approval at the most senior (judicial) level so any resistance should melt away," Goodman added.

The approach is also supported by the Magistrates Association, who want to see provision in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act (2008), which enables the government to allow or require youth rehabilitation orders to be reviewed by the courts, to be enacted.

"The Magistrates Association has led calls for judicial monitoring to be introduced with both young people and adults and is aware of the hard work that has been done to introduce an informal review panel process with selected children and young people serving a community sentence in Northamptonshire," said Linda Logan, chair of the Magistrates Association's youth courts committee.

"We now want to see legislation that is already on the books enacted, in order to ensure that a consistent approach is followed across England and Wales and remove any lack of clarity around the role that magistrates play. This would help to reduce reoffending, enhance procedural fairness and improve magistrates' confidence in community sentences."

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