Advocacy for Children in Conflict with the Law

Accessible guidance for practitioners who specialise in representing children in the criminal justice system.

The statistics

Significant and successful attempts have been made over the last decade to reduce the number of children in conflict with the law, but England and Wales still has the highest number of children in custody in the whole of Western Europe. Around half of those have spent time in care and over 73% of convicted children go on to re-offend.

Specific vulnerabilities

Children in conflict with the law are some of the most disadvantaged in society with acute and complex educational, social and financial vulnerabilities. Many of them come from dysfunctional and chaotic families where drug and alcohol misuse, physical and emotional abuse and offending is common. Often, they are victims of crimes themselves.

Adolescent brain development and a lack of maturity contribute to the propensity to criminal behaviour. Advocates should be aware of the very large body of evidence indicating that brain development is far from complete at 18 and that immature skills in empathy, remorse and planning can all affect decisions taken by young adults.

The work of the ICCA

The ICCA believes that this field of work should be a specialism and supports the continual improvement of advocacy standards for those prosecuting and defending cases involving children and young people. It is clear that the consequences for children who cannot properly engage with the system because of poor communication or an inability to be understood can be catastrophic and can damage future life chances.

To this end, we are embarking on a major project to produce a national course tackling some of the most challenging areas of advocacy in the field. With a strong Working Group of legal, medical, linguistic and communication experts, we are developing new training material which will provide blended learning over 2.5 days. It will be delivered by the Inns and Circuits on a largely pro bono basis.

The guides listed below are currently being updated and will form part of our new training materials. They can help advocates to comply with the Bar Standards Board’s Youth Proceedings Competences.

Accompanying the material is our film on communication and engagement with children in the youth justice system.