Youth Justice Advocacy

We have produced important guidance for practitioners representing children in the youth justice system.


These materials will help you comply with the Bar Standards Board’s Youth Proceedings Competences.

In December 2016, Charlie Taylor produced his Review of the Youth Justice System in England and Wales.

The Government Response states that it shares the Taylor Review’s concerns about legal representation in the youth court and welcomes the recent steps taken by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to improve standards.

The statistics

Significant attempts have been made over the last decade to reduce the number of children who find themselves in trouble in the criminal justice system. Since 2010, the number of child arrests has decreased by 59%, however 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 and young people who do find themselves in trouble are generally some of the most disadvantaged in society with acute and complex educational, social and financial vulnerabilities. According to the Taylor Review, many of the children in the system 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.

The Justice Committee has reported on the treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system. Brain development and the propensity to criminal behaviour is an important feature of their findings.

Barristers representing young adults into their early 20s should be aware of the very large body of evidence which indicates that brain development is far from complete and that immature skills in empathy, remorse and planning, for example, affect decisions taken by young adults.

Youth Justice Advocacy should be an area of specialism

Representation of young people, whether in the youth court or the crown court, is an area of practice which requires considerable skill and expertise. The consequences for children who cannot properly engage with the process and communicate or be understood can have negative impacts for them.

ICCA's guidance

The Inns College is working closely with the BSB, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), Just for Kids Law, ECPAT and the Youth Justice Legal Centre (YJLC) to make sure that there are valuable and practical resources available for practitioners as they prepare for youth justice cases.

We have produced a number of guides dealing with some of the most complex areas of practice in youth justice. These cover:

Accompanying Film

We have also produced a film addressing communication and engagement with children in the youth justice system. This is one of the BSB’s Youth Proceedings Competences.

The film aims to:

  • give practitioners more insight into the complex needs of young clients
  • provide guidance on how to obtain valuable information from them
  • empower practitioners to effectively advise children in such a way as to enabling them to engage fully with the process and to understand what is happening to them

Further resources

Over time, the College aims to add more materials to this section. You are actively encouraged to share your experiences of work in the youth court to highlight concerns, systemic difficulties and best practice. Please get in touch via email, quoting “Youth Justice Advocacy” on the subject line.

It should be noted that as a result of the Taylor Review and the Government’s Response setting out the need for reform and its intentions to take forward Taylor’s recommendations, there is likely to be significant changes made to the way in which youth justice cases are managed, conducted and resolved. It is all the more important that practitioners in this field keep abreast of developments.

A list of recommended reading is provided below to assist your understanding of some of the important issues surrounding representation of children and young people. Knowledge and understanding of some of the wider issues will inevitably make you a more efficient and effective advocate resulting in better outcomes for your young clients.

This guidance is only the tip of the iceberg and the ICCA would encourage any practitioner practising in this area of work to undertake advanced training, an example of which is currently offered by Just for Kids Law.

Recommended reading