Home Law International Handbook of Juvenile Justice
COURTS AND JUVENILES
Cases involving a young person between the age of 12 and 17 can be jointly referred to the CHS and the Procurator Fiscal (Scottish prosecutor) if they are considered serious enough. If the Procurator Fiscal considers that there is
Figure 18.2. Number of 16- and 17-year-olds proceeded against in the Scottish courts per 1000 population, 2004/5 to 2013/14. Source: Scottish Government 2016:51.
sufficient evidence that a serious offence has been committed, there are several options that may be considered. These include various forms of diversion from prosecution, such as formal warnings, financial penalties or participation in a specialist programme. The latter can be offered if an assessment by a social worker deems this suitable, in which case the young person would undertake work or receive services tailored to their particular needs. Failure to complete the programme could result in the case returning to court.
If it is decided that prosecution is necessary, a young person may be tried in court. As noted earlier, juvenile courts in Scotland were abolished with the introduction of the CHS in 1971. However, in 2003 two pilot youth court projects were created in Scotland to deal with persistent offenders aged 15-17 who would otherwise have been dealt with in an adult court. The referral criterion was three or more police referrals to the Procurator Fiscal in a 6-month period. While a government sponsored evaluation of the courts was largely positive (Mclvor et al. 2006), an independent report claimed that the new proceedings undermined children’s human rights (Piacentini and Walters 2006). A further review concluded that the youth courts were not cost effective and their outcomes in terms of reconviction and offending rates were no better than adult courts (Scottish Government 2009), following which funding was withdrawn and the courts were phased out.
In reality, very few children aged between 12 and 15 are dealt with by the courts. In 2011/12, only 47 children were convicted in an adult court and, of these, the majority were either remitted back to the CHS for disposal or they received an admonishment or absolute discharge (McAra and McVie 2014). As noted earlier, a key aim of the WSA is to also keep 16- and 17-year-olds out of court and trend data suggests that there has been a decline in convictions amongst this group. Figure 18.2 shows the number of 16- and 17-year-olds proceeded against in the Scottish courts (i.e. convicted) during the last decade as a rate per 1000 of the population, to adjust for changes in population size. Since 2006/7, the conviction rate for both age groups has fallen significantly which appears to match the trend in offence referrals. The decline in convictions amongst 17-year- olds is particularly pronounced. While this was expected as a result of the introduction of the WSA, it could also partially reflect a real underlying decline in youth offending, as noted earlier.
Other significant legislative changes during this period may also have impacted on the number of young people proceeded against in court. For example, the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 led to the introduction of police Fixed Penalty Notices in 2007 which were identified as having driven down prosecutions for minor offences including breach of the peace and public order offences (Cavanagh 2009). In addition, the Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 increased the use of ‘direct measures’ for low level offenders in order to keep them out of the courts. It seems likely that the introduction of these types of non-court disposals have had some impact on the trends shown in Fig. 18.2; however, analysis by Matthews (2016) suggests that the introduction of such measures does not fully account for the fall in convictions for those aged under 21. Indeed, the largest change in convictions across all age groups has occurred amongst young men aged under 21, for whom the conviction rate fell by 72 % between 1989 and 2012 (Matthews 2014). There has been an unprecedented shift in the age- crime curve in Scotland according to convictions data, with the peak age of conviction increasing from 18 years to 23 years for males and from 18 years to 30 years for females. In comparison, conviction rates for those aged over 25 have remained steady or increased over this period. However, it is important to note that this data is somewhat limited as it is only based on convictions in court and therefore may hide where changes in other parts of the criminal justice system have had an effect.
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