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Court delays are unfairly keeping young people anchored to their past

Unlock CEO Angela Cairns explains how a loophole in disclosure rules means the courts crisis is holding young people back

The courts have been under severe strain for years, with a growing backlog of cases even before the pandemic. As well as prolonging an already distressing process for victims and defendants, these delays also impact criminal records. Children who come into contact with the justice system are having to wait so long for their case to get to court, that they turn 18 before they are convicted. This means they can be subject to adult spending periods – for offences they committed as children.

The system supposedly recognises that young people deserve a fair chance to put mistakes made in childhood behind them – which is why spending periods for convictions received under 18 are shorter. But the current court backlog means that too many young people are denied this chance, because of delays they can’t control. With criminal barristers using their right to strike, this situation will only get worse.

We need a properly funded justice system that allows anyone who finds themselves on the wrong side of the law to access a legal representative – who is properly paid for the vital work they do. We need urgent investment to reduce the court backlog, and we need to change the law so that anyone who is under 18 when they commit an offence is subject to the criminal record disclosure process for children not adults.

Fixing these urgent, immediate problems is just the start. We are calling for wider reform of the system, and the creation of a completely distinct approach to criminal records received as a child. The law must take account of age and maturity and allow young people to move on from mistakes made in childhood – rather than holding them back at what is a crucial stage in their lives.

Written by:

Angela is CEO of Unlock

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Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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