Recognising youth justice as a specialism - the Youth Justice Summit 2017

16.05.17 | |

On Friday 12 May, leading practitioners and professionals working in the criminal justice system came together for the inaugural Youth Justice Summit, organised by the Youth Justice Legal Centre (YJLC).


Doughty Street Chambers supported the event and was well represented on the day: Edward Fitzgerald QC was one of the keynote speakers, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Tunde Okewale led breakout sessions, and Daniella Waddoup was honoured with the ‘Rising Star’ award which recognised her work to improve the protection of children’s rights in the youth justice system.


The resounding message from the summit was that the representation of children and young people in the criminal justice system is a specialism. The particular vulnerabilities of children, and the serious consequences for those who find themselves charged with a criminal offence, make it even more important that the lawyers who represent them and the judges who hear their cases have the necessary skill and expertise. As Mr Justice William Davis, Judicial Lead for Youth Justice, observed in his introduction, how we treat these children is critical: “get it wrong and the damage is huge, for them and for us. Get it right and the benefits are immense.”


Whilst steps have been made toward recognising youth justice as a specialist area of practice, for example the recent publication by the Bar Standards Board of the Youth Proceedings Competences, HHJ Nicholas Hilliard QC, Recorder of London, noted in his keynote address that the challenge is ensuring that the materials and standards which do exist are consistently applied by all participants. He stressed that “constant vigilance is needed”.


Perhaps the starkest illustration of this emerged from the fascinating panel discussion with Edward Fitzgerald QC and Henry Blaxland QC, chaired by Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth. It has been 24 years since the trial of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables and 18 years since the pivotal ruling of the ECtHR in T v United Kingdom which found that they did not receive a fair trial. Edward Fitzgerald QC represented Jon Venables before the High Court, Court of Appeal, House of Lords and finally at Strasbourg. He reflected on the case and provided a unique insight into the strategy his legal team deployed to challenge the trial procedure, which focussed on the concept of effective participation. He recalled the lasting image of two small heads just visible above the dock and argued that to take as the starting point the position for an adult defendant, and then simply make modifications, is the wrong approach.


However, fast forward 18 years and Henry Blaxland QC is acting in a forthcoming appeal against conviction in which 5 young people aged between 14 and 18 were tried in the dock, despite the practice direction issued after T v United Kingdom which specifies that all participants should be on the same level and young defendants should sit in a place where they can easily communicate with their lawyer.


Both cases highlight the fundamental role that lawyers and judges have to play in ensuring children’s effective participation and guaranteeing that their rights are upheld. With this in mind, the breakout sessions running throughout the day were designed to be practical and provided practitioners with specialist skills, knowledge and strategies that they can utilise when representing children.


Drawing the summit to a close, YJLC Director Kate Aubrey-Johnson urged all delegates to take up the mantle and join YJLC in changing the perception of youth justice work. Thanks to an incredibly insightful and inspiring conference, we went away better informed and better equipped to do so.

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