22 September 2019

Major new report highlights mixed advocacy standards in youth court proceedings

19 November 2015 

The Youth Proceedings Advocacy Review report, published today as a result of extensive research, highlights the damaging effects that poor advocacy has on access to justice for young and often very vulnerable offenders, and their perceptions of the system in general.

Whilst recognising there were examples of good practice amongst advocates appearing in youth court proceedings, the overriding view of those who participated within the research was that standards of advocacy were not at the level that the public should expect.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Quality of advocacy in youth proceedings is regarded as highly variable;
  • A lack of specialist knowledge amongst some advocates of the statutory framework for dealing with young people and young offenders;
  • Mixed ability amongst advocates to communicate clearly and appropriately with the young people whom they are representing;
  • A lack of specialist training for advocates undertaking work in youth court proceedings.

The report also makes recommendations that go beyond improving the quality of advocacy. Concerns with the wider nature of the youth justice system are highlighted. For example:

  • The highly formal nature of court proceedings and their adversarial nature can impede effective participation by young people;
  • Time pressures linked to legal aid reforms can lead to an emphasis on "swift justice" which in turn could undermine genuine justice;
  • The legal profession has a tendency to undervalue the important work undertaken in youth court proceedings - for example, by seeing it as a place where young lawyers can cut their teeth, rather than a place where serious cases are often heard.

BSB Chair Sir Andrew Burns said: "This is an important piece of insight into the current state of justice in youth court proceedings. As a regulator acting in the public interest, it is our duty to act on these findings and this is precisely what we intend to do in relation to the recommendations that fall under our regulatory remit. We have accepted in principle the recommendations set out in the report and will now focus on how we can improve standards of advocacy amongst barristers working with young offenders. Of course, we will need to do this alongside our counterparts regulating other parts of the legal profession.

"However, because this report also highlights systemic problems with the way in which youth justice is administered, the BSB calls for urgent collaboration between all parties including the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Justice Board. It is our view that only by working together can we successfully address the serious issues highlighted in the report."

CILEx Regulation Chair Sam Younger strongly supported the call for broad-based reforms to improve outcomes for young people - defendants, witnesses and victims - caught up in the youth courts.

"The research shows advocates are working in an imperfect environment. How the improvements to the infrastructure around youth court proceedings can be achieved is for others to address, particularly the Ministry of Justice. For our part, we accept that we need to ensure CILEx advocates have the right training and the resources for professional development they need to support the Youth Court and work effectively with all young people caught up in criminal proceedings.

"CILEx advocates specialising in criminal work have substantial experience in youth court proceedings by the time they qualify, but the research shows we need to do more as a regulator to ensure they can achieve the best possible outcomes for the young people they represent."

The BSB and CILEx Regulation would also like to express their thanks to Ali Wigzell, Amy Kirby and Jessica Jacobson from ICPR, who undertook the research and wrote the report.

The authors said: "Our research found that the quality of advocacy in youth proceedings is very mixed, and that most advocates practising in the Youth Court lack specialist training for this role. It is also clear that there are many aspects of court culture and the wider youth justice system which hamper the work of advocates - including the low status of the Youth Court, and the formality and complexity of language used at court."

Commenting on the report from a youth justice perspective, Director of the Youth Justice Legal Centre and youth justice barrister at Just for Kids Law, Kate Aubrey-Johnson said: "This report highlights the shocking way children are being failed by the justice system, and why youth justice needs to be recognised as a specialism.

"All the evidence shows that children in court are exceptionally vulnerable: a third have an identified special educational needs and a similar number suffer mental illness.

"Just for Kids Law has long argued that it cannot be right for young people to be represented by the least experienced advocates, who through no fault of their own are ill-equipped to deal with the extra demands that acting for this acutely vulnerable group places on them."

The Youth Proceedings Advocacy Review report is available here.


Notes to editors

About the Bar Standards Board

The BSB regulates barristers called to the Bar in England and Wales in the public interest.  We also regulate entities.

It is responsible for:

  • Setting the education and training requirements for becoming a barrister;
  • Setting continuing training requirements to ensure that barristers' skills are maintained throughout their careers;
  • Setting standards of conduct for barristers;
  • Monitoring the service provided by barristers to assure quality; and
  • Handling complaints against barristers and taking disciplinary or other action where appropriate.

The BSB's mission is to regulate the Bar so as to promote high standards of practice and safeguard clients and the public interest.

About Sir Andrew Burns KCMG

Sir Andrew Burns joined the BSB as Chair on 1 January 2015, following a long career in the Diplomatic Service. He was the UK Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues since 2010 to 2015 and was Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2014/15. His past roles include British High Commissioner to Canada (2000-2003), British Consul-General in Hong Kong and Macau (1997-2000) and British Ambassador to Israel (1992-1995).  He chairs Hestercombe Gardens Trust and the International Polar Foundation-UK and is a Governor of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Sir Andrew Burns is available for interview.

About CILEx Regulation

CILEx Regulation regulates members of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) and entities. It oversees the education, qualification and practice standards of Chartered Legal Executive lawyers, CILEx members and CILEx Practitioners, and ensures they maintain proper standards of professional and personal conduct.

CILEx Regulation embodies the principle that legal professional bodies like CILEx should separate their regulatory and leadership functions so that clients and the public can have confidence in their legal advisors.

CILEx Regulation works with CILEx to ensure CILEx qualifications are at the right level and are appropriate to the work CILEx members carry out. CILEx Regulation also aims to ensure members are fully aware of their obligations to clients, colleagues, the courts and the public. When necessary, CILEx Regulation deals with complaints against CILEx members.

About Sam Younger CBE

Sam Younger joined CILEx Regulation as Chair in October 2015. Sam's various roles have included Council Member of the Advertising Standards Authority, Vice Chair of Voluntary Service Overseas, and Public Interest Observer on the Council of the Chartered Institute of Taxation. Previously he had a 20-year career at the BBC, where he was Managing Director of BBC World Service (1994-1998). He was subsequently Director General of the British Red Cross (1999-2001), inaugural Chair of the Electoral Commission (2001-2008) and Chief Executive of the Charity Commission for England and Wales (2010-2014).He was appointed CBE in 2008.

About the Institute for Criminal Policy Research

The Institute for Criminal Policy Research (http://icpr.org.uk/) is an independent research charity which undertakes academically-grounded, policy-oriented research into all aspects of the criminal justice system. ICPR produces work for a range of audiences including policy-makers and their advisers, and criminal justice practitioners, academics, and the wider public. ICPR is based in the Law School of Birkbeck, University of London.

About Kate Aubrey-Johnson

Kate is the Director of the Youth Justice Legal Centre (YJLC). YJLC was set up by Just for Kids Law in 2014 as a centre of excellence on youth justice law. Kate is a youth justice specialist barrister at Garden Court Chambers and having qualified in 2001 has represented many children and adults in criminal and prison law cases.

Kate Aubrey-Johnson is available for interview.

Contact: For all media enquiries call: 0207 611 1452 or email  press@barstandardsboard.org.uk