We spoke to Aaron Brown (Research Associate for the Children & Young People’s Centre for Justice), Stephen McVey (Service Manager of Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership) and Sheriff Fleming about the Glasgow Youth Court.
The Glasgow Youth Court was established in 2021. This was precedented by the existence of other successful problem-solving courts in the area, including those that also feature on our map, the Glasgow Drug Court and the Glasgow Alcohol Court. The Glasgow Youth Court is a judicially led problem solving court for 16–24-year-olds, supported by the Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership and Glasgow Sheriff Court. The Glasgow Youth Court aims to focus on rehabilitation, recognise the impact of ACEs and trauma and provide intensive support to young people to address the underlying causes of offending. It is worth noting here that within the criminal justice system in Scotland, unlike in England, those over 16 are considered adults and are unable to be called to a children’s hearing unless in certain circumstances. Within this context, the existence of the Glasgow Youth Court is even more important, as it diverts young people away from the adult court. Young people accepted into the youth court mostly engage in a Structured Deferred Sentence, which aims to support young people to meet unmet needs, involving attendance of regular review hearings, engagement with social workers and multi-disciplinary interventions.
To be eligible for the youth court, the young person must be under the age of 25 at the date of plea or of finding guilt and must live within the boundaries of Glasgow City Council or South Lanarkshire Council. There is no restriction on the type of case that can be referred to the court, and though the majority of cases dealt with are summary cases, solemn cases are still considered and heard by the court in certain circumstances. Cases that begin before a Sheriff can be referred to the court, and criminal justice Area Team social workers can refer into the court following an offence having been committed.
All referral decisions are made by the presiding Sheriff, and those accepted are allocated to one of the specialist Sheriffs presiding in the youth court, of which there are currently five. At the time of the referral, Area Team social workers provide a criminal justice social work report related to the young person. If the referral meets the threshold and the Sheriff approves the case for the youth court, the social work team involved changes and the young person is allocated to a Youth Court Team social worker.
If accepted into the youth court, in most cases the Sheriff imposes a Structured Deferred Sentence (SDS) on the young person. A Youth Court Team social worker arranges an initial appointment with the young person, and various assessment tools are utilised to form the basis of a social work report required for the first review hearing of the youth court. The youth court team social worker will explore interventions that could assist the young person as part of their SDS, using their own insight and the views of the young person. Interventions generally aim to: enhance young people’s skills, education, and employability; provide them with opportunities to build their confidence and benefit from communal experiences; and meet any specialist needs (e.g., addiction, mental health, etc.). They tend to be delivered by the following agencies: Venture Trust; Skills; Development Scotland; Includem; ISMS; Addiction Services (Drug and Alcohol); Mental Health Services; Rangers Charity Foundation; Celtic FC Foundation; Blue Triangle; and ChoiceWorks. Practitioners delivering these interventions are in close contact with the young person’s youth court team social worker and update them on the young person’s engagement and progression. The social worker includes these updates, alongside any from their own work with the young person, in their reports submitted to the youth court for each of the review hearings.
During the course of the Youth Court SDS, the young person attends review hearings. Generally, the first review hearing takes place after the first 4-6 weeks, with subsequent hearings following a 6–8-week pattern. These take place to allow the court to stay updated and monitor the young person’s circumstances, their engagement with interventions and to decide any further course of action.
There are multiple options available to the presiding Sheriff at the conclusions of each review hearing, including: Extension of the SDS for a further period; Admonishment; Fines; Restriction of Liberty Order; Community Payback Order (CPO/ with Unpaid Work element); and Custody. (Please note that ‘successful completion’ of the SDS would be referred to as an admonishment). There is no set time for SDS, however on average the length of a completed SDS within the youth court is 26 weeks.
It is worth noting that the initial disposal can be not only an SDS, but also a Community Payback Order (CPO). Though most cases are dealt with by SDS, the CPO is often used if there is an ancillary disposal such as disqualification or in serious cases if there is an unpaid work element to the CPO.
The Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice completed evaluation of Glasgow Youth Court and the report was published in May 2023. It found that since its establishment (up to the time of writing the report) there had been 102 Youth Court orders, and that Youth Court orders made up 21.7% of all orders made for those aged 21 and under in 2022/2023. It also found that 65% of SDS originating in the Youth Court had been ‘successfully’ completed, i.e. admonished, compared to 51% for those not originating in the Youth Court. Other positive findings included that:
- Many young people felt positively about their engagement with Sheriffs, who often displayed patience and flexibility, offered positive feedback and used simple language.
- Broadly, young people also found the interventions and support programmes offered to them via the Youth Court to be beneficial.
- Generally young people felt positive about their future following their involvement in the Youth Court process.
You can read the evaluation, which includes case studies and quotes from young people and stakeholders involved, in full here.
For more information about the Glasgow Youth Court, please contact Stephen.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Case study by Miranda Paris, 2023.