This report provides findings from interviews with 21 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 with recent experience of attending magistrates’ court. The aim was to learn about how they experienced court as well as get their views on improvements.
Almost all those we spoke to, including ones who had been to court before, did not understand the court process. They were not sure what to expect before they turned up, were not able to follow proceedings as they happened, and some left the court still unsure what had happened and why. The issue that came up most consistently for young people, and which most animated them, was frustration at not feeling their voices had been heard adequately. We also found defendants had varying perceptions of how respectful they felt the process was to them.
People’s compliance with the court process comes from the basic components of procedural fairness: that people understand the process; feel they have been treated with respect; and have had their voices heard. Our findings suggest that this is not how young adults experience court.
In working with five magistrate court areas, we developed a model of procedural fairness in court that could be tested and evaluated to improve these experiences. The model includes the following core features:
- Providing better information to defendants before attending court, including preparing defendants for the opportunity for direct engagement with the bench;
- Enhancing engagement during the hearing itself, for example, checking defendants’ understanding through the hearing and explaining the roles of those in the court room where appropriate;
- Giving defendants an opportunity for direct engagement with the bench;
- Following up after hearings to check understanding and next steps;
- Supporting voluntary take-up of community services that are available locally to tackle wider needs that may be contributing to offending behaviour.
This work has been generously funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, as part of the Transition to Adulthood Alliance.