High Court ruling on support for vulnerable young people with complex needs

The High Court yesterday ruled that a vulnerable 14 year old boy should be given the support he needs to fully engage as a defendant in criminal proceedings.
15 May 2020

In a challenge taken by Just for Kids Law’s strategic litigation team the High Court overturned the youth court’s decision denying the child additional support from an intermediary - a specialist speech and language expert. The court stated that a defendant must have a fair trial, which includes the ability to participate effectively in their case as well as confirming that child defendants are entitled to additional protections in law.
Just for Kids Law has been campaigning for many years to ensure vulnerable and children with special educational needs and disabilities can effectively participate in criminal proceedings. Despite attempts in recent years to make the experience of criminal trials more child friendly there are still many children who Just for Kids Law represents that say they don’t understand what goes on in court. Research published this month by the Centre for Justice Innovation found that this was also the case (find the briefing paper here).

The High Court judgement will ensure that our client gets the support he needs with the help of an intermediary, and confirms that decisions  in criminal trials to provide intermediaries for children should be made on a case by case basis and, critically, should  be given careful consideration. It makes clear that children need to be able to participate throughout the entirety of court proceedings, not just when giving evidence, and that judges need to determine whether or not a child is able to do that. The judgement also states that there should not be a high threshold for making this decision stating: ‘It does not follow that there is a high hurdle to overcome for the appointment of an intermediary if one is necessary for the effective participation of a defendant in the trial process’.
Aika Stephenson co-founder and Legal Director of Just for Kids Law said:

“Just for Kids Law has always fought for better rights for children in the criminal justice system. The courts are complex and frightening for most adults let alone children. In this significant judgement the High Court recognises the youth justice system is filled with ‘vulnerable young people with complex needs’ who need support to understand what is happening in court and communicate effectively. We hope it will lead to more children being able to have access to intermediaries in criminal trials. Following the Covid-19 pandemic with the move towards remote hearings in courts, the need to ensure the effective engagement and participation of children in criminal cases is more important than ever before.”

Please download below the judgment handed down on Thursday 14th May 2020 by PQBD and William Davis J (virtual court).