Youth Courts: orders

Referral Orders

A referral order is the mandatory sentence in a youth court or magistrates’ court for most children and young people who have committed an offence for the first time and have pleaded guilty to an imprisonable offence. Exceptions apply for offences where a sentence is fixed by law or if the court deems a custodial sentence, an absolute or conditional discharge or a hospital order to be more appropriate.

A discretionary referral order can also be imposed for any offence where there has been a plea of guilty regardless of previous offending history. It should be remembered that they are not community orders and in general terms may be regarded as orders which fall between community disposals and fines. However, bearing in mind that the principal aim of the youth justice system is to prevent children and young people offending, second or subsequent referral orders should be considered in those cases where:

(a) the offence is not serious enough for a Youth Rehabilitation Order but the child or young person does appear to require some intervention OR

(b) the offence is serious enough for a Youth Rehabilitation Order but it is felt that a referral order would be the best way to prevent further offending (as an example, this may be because the child or young person has responded well in the past to such an order and the offence now before the court is dissimilar to that for which a referral order was previously imposed).

In cases where children or young people have offended for the first time and have pleaded guilty to committing an offence which is on the cusp of the custody threshold, YOTs should be encouraged to convene a Youth Offender Panel prior to sentence (sometimes referred to as a “pseudo-panel” or “pre-panel”) where the child or young person is asked to attend before a panel and agree an intensive contract. If that contract is placed before the sentencing youth court, the court can then decide whether it is sufficient to move below custody on this occasion. The proposed contract is not something the court can alter in any way; the court will still have to make a decision between referral order and custody but can do so on the basis that if it makes a referral order it can have confidence in what that will entail in the particular case.

The court determines the length of the order but a Referral Order Panel determines the requirements of the order.

Youth Rehabilitation Order

A YRO is the equivalent of a generic community order for adult offenders. It allows the Court to include one or more requirements to achieve punishment for the offence, protection for the public, reduction in reoffending and reparation. The requirements are similar but not identical to those available for a community order.

Detention and Training Orders

A court can only impose a DTO if the child or young person is legally represented unless they have refused to apply for legal aid or it has been withdrawn as a result of their conduct.

If it is determined that the offence is of such seriousness that a custodial sentence is unavoidable then the length of this sentence must be considered on an individual basis. The court must take into account the chronological age of the child or young person, as well as their maturity, emotional and developmental age and other relevant factors, such as their mental health or any learning disabilities.

A DTO cannot be imposed on any child under the age of 12 at the time of the finding of guilt and is only applicable to children aged 12 – 14 if they are deemed to be a persistent offender. (See section on persistent offenders on page 22.)

A DTO can be made only for the periods prescribed – 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 18 or 24 months. Any time spent on remand in custody or on bail subject to a qualifying curfew condition should be taken into account when calculating the length of the order. The accepted approach is to double the time spent on remand before deciding the appropriate period of detention, in order to ensure that the regime is in line with that applied to adult offenders.37 After doubling the time spent on remand the court should then adopt the nearest prescribed period available for a DTO.