- Your rights protect you even if you have to go to court for breaking the law
- It can be a confusing and frightening experience, so knowing your rights should make you feel more confident
- Your rights won’t get you out of trouble, but they are there make sure you are treated properly and fairly
If the police decide to charge you with an offence, you will go to court. This will usually be the youth court, which is set up especially for children and young people. Sometimes, if what you have done is very serious, or someone else who is 18 or over was involved in breaking the law with you, you may have to go to the Crown Court.
Just as your rights apply when you are at the police station, they also apply when you are in court. The court has to consider what’s in your best interests. You shouldn’t be treated any differently to anyone other child or young person who has broken the law, and you should have a chance to put across your side of what happened. You should be given all the information you need to understand what’s happening. You also have specific rights that make sure you have legal help in court, and are treated properly when the court decides what should happen to you.
If you’ve been asked to go to court because of something that has happened to you, go to our section on what happens if you are a victim of a crime. If you’re worried about going to court because of something that’s happening in your family, you can find out more in our section about your rights At Home.
No – not always. The police have lots of other ways they can deal with you, depending on what you have done and whether you are often in trouble with the police or not. You probably will go to court if you don’t agree that you have broken the law, or if what you have done is so serious that it can’t be dealt with another way by the police.
Most people will have a solicitor to represent them at court. You may also have a barrister if the case is complicated or you are in the Crown Court.
If you don’t have a solicitor, you can get Legal Aid which will pay for you to be helped at court by the Duty Solicitor. You should also get Legal Aid in most criminal cases if you are under 18.
If you’re under 16, your parents or the person responsible for you, must be there. If you’re 16 or 17, your parents must go to court with you if there’s an order for them to be there. Sometimes, as well as punishing you for breaking the law, the court will ask your parents or the person responsible for you to behave in a certain way, to help you.
You solicitor will advise you about what will happen in court and when to speak. You can plead ‘guilty’ – which means you accept that you broke the law. You can also plead ‘not guilty’ – which means that you don’t accept that you broke the law.
If you plead not guilty, you will have the opportunity to tell the court your side of the story. If it wasn’t you, or if there was a reason why you did what you did, which you think means you shouldn’t be punished.
If you plead guilty, you may be asked to give information about yourself before the court decides what should happen to you.
If you don’t know whether to plead guilty or not guilty, you can ask for an adjournment so you can talk to your solicitor.
Most children and young people who go to court will go the youth court. These are specially designed for children and young people and should help you feel more relaxed. In most cases, the youth court is a better place for a child who has broken the law, although in some cases, you might go to a Crown Court (an adult court). This would only happen if it was necessary. This might be because you were involved in breaking the law with an adult whose case is being heard in the Crown Court. You will also go to Crown Court if what you are accused of is very serious – murder or rape for example. If you do have to go to the Crown Court, in practice, changes may be made to the usual procedure to make sure that you understand what is going on.
If you are 16 or 17, and have been involved in certain offences, such as firearms offences, you may be sent to the Crown Court.
No – the court has lots of different options and detention (in a secure children’s home, a secure training centre or a Young Offender Institution) is only one of them. You can find out more in the What Might Happen to Me section.
Youth Court proceedings aren’t open to the public. There is also a rule which means that when you are in court, information should not be reported in the papers or on the TV, radio or online that can identify you or might identify you. This applies even if you are not in trouble yourself but are giving evidence in another case.
If you have to go to the magistrates court or the Crown Court, the court can stop this sort of information being reported. The court has to think about what is in your best interests when it makes this decision.