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We were concerned that a minor piece of research, casting doubt on the quality of representation in youth cases, was widely reported in the press.
What did the study suggest?
A report by “Fair Trials”, Young minds, big decisions, alleges that young people are being placed under intense pressure to plead guilty to crimes without fully understanding the life-changing consequences of their decision. In some cases, young people are given as little as 20 to 30 minutes to decide whether or not to plead guilty.
The main challenges identified through this research include:
– Motivation for Guilty Pleas: The testimonies from people who made guilty pleas as young adults confirm existing research that suggests that guilty pleas are often motivated by potential sentence or charge reductions. However, there was little indication that long-term consequences of pleading guilty played a major role in the decision-making process. It was apparent that most decisions prioritised immediate outcomes, particularly with regard to their criminal cases, and even people who did consider the impact of their decisions, not just on themselves but also on others that were close to them, seemed to focus on the short-term benefits of guilty pleas.
– Inadequate Support and Assistance. The general impression given by people involved in this research was the lack of support and assistance to make an informed decision about their pleas. Most of them reported negative experiences of working with their defence lawyers, who they felt unable to trust or depend on for reliable advice and support. Many chose to rely instead on the advice of other defendants and fellow prisoners, who they believed to be a more reliable source of support.
– Lack of Information and Advice: It is clear that many young people are not given adequate information to make their decisions on how to plead, or, where they are given such information, it is not provided in a way that it is easily understood. Many individuals felt that the pros and cons of entering a ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ plea were not properly explained to them, including the impact that such decisions could have on their rights, and that they were given inaccurate or misleading advice about the potential outcomes of their cases. This often led them to make decisions that they later regretted.
– Unexpected Consequences of Guilty Pleas: The lack of sufficient time, information, and support given to people to help them make their decisions about their pleas meant that in many cases, young people who pleaded guilty only found about the true implications of their decisions much later on. This included negative impacts on their career prospects and ambitions, as well as their rights and legal status. However, it was also clear from accounts given by certain people that pleading guilty could seriously damage their relationship with the legal system, and affect their outcomes in criminal justice proceedings in the future.
– Insufficient Support for Health Conditions and Disabilities: Several people expressed concerns that young people who faced additional communication challenges on account of their health conditions, characteristics, or disabilities, were being let down by the justice system, and that they were not receiving the support they needed to make informed decisions regarding their pleas.
– Transitioning from Childhood to Adulthood. Several people mentioned that their experiences of the criminal justice stared even before their teenage years with little to no signs that they were treated more fairly, or even differently as children.
Are these findings of concern?
The findings were based on:
(1) A questionnaire that received only 27 responses, and
(2) A focus group involving only 12 young people.
Therefore, whilst any expression of dissatisfaction with legal representation is, of course, a matter of concern, we do not believe that these findings, based on such a small sample size, can be said to reflect experience across the board.
We employ a team of youth specialists who are training not only in youth law but also have a detailed understanding of how to communicate effectively with young and often very vulnerable clients.
How can we help?
We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact any member of our vastly experienced Criminal Defence team, for assistance with any criminal law related matter.
Miss Sarah Turland (Sarah.Turland@danielwoodman.co.uk).
- Blog 367