Your rights including stop and search

Your rights if you are charged

Once you've been charged, what happens?

Once you have been charged with an offence you will have to go to court.

After you have been charged the police will decide, based on the type of offence and what they know about you, whether to release you on bail until you go to court or to keep you in custody until your first court hearing.

If you are bailed you will be given a copy of your charge sheet. The name and address of the court and the date and time you have to go to court will be on this.

If you are bailed and want a solicitor to help you and speak for you at court, you should go and see them before your first court appearance. They can help you decide if you should plead guilty or not.

They will also help you apply for financial assistance to cover the cost of your solicitor, known as legal aid - if this is granted then their legal advice will be free.

You can get advice on how to find a solicitor by contacting the Law Society

What happens next?

Going to court

On the date of your first hearing you should make sure that you arrive on time. You should not go to court on your own, as your parents or carer should go with you. If your parent or carer does not attend court with you and you are under 16, then the court may decide to adjourn or postpone your case until they are able to accompany you. If needs be, they can summons your parent or carer to attend, which means that they are told they must attend otherwise they will get in trouble themselves.

When you arrive at court, the first thing that you should do is check who you should tell that you have arrived and where you have to wait. If you have not yet got a solicitor and want to see one at court, you should ask to speak to the duty solicitor.

If you are too ill to attend court, either at the first hearing or a later hearing you must tell the court and your solicitor or your YOT. You will also need to provide the court with a note from your doctor that says you are too ill to go to court. If you do not go to court when you are supposed to, you could face another charge of failing to appear at court.

If you or your parent or carer needs additional help or support because of a disability, you or your solicitor should contact the court as soon as possible after you have been charged. This will give the court enough time to make any necessary arrangements.

If you had an interpreter at the police station, then either the police or the court will arrange for an interpreter to attend your court proceedings to help you. If your parent or carer who is attending court with you, speaks the same language as you then the interpreter will assist your parent or carer as well as you.

If your parent or carer speaks a different language to you and will require help to understand what is happening in court you or your solicitor should contact the court a few days before you are due to appear so that an interpreter can be arranged.

What happens in Court?

Your case will be heard by either a District Judge who is qualified as a solicitor or barrister, or by three magistrates who are members of the public who volunteer to sit as magistrates and have had training in youth justice. A legal adviser will also be in court. They help the court with the law and make sure that the correct processes are followed.

When you go into court you should stay standing (your parent or carer can sit down beside you). You will be asked to confirm your name, date of birth, your address and phone number.

Some serious offences may be heard in the Crown Court. The District Judge or magistrates will decide where a court case should be heard.

If the case is to be heard in the youth court, then you will generally be expected to enter a plea at the first hearing. This means saying that you agree that you committed the offence (pleading guilty) or you do not agree that you committed the offence (pleading not guilty)

Pleading guilty

If you plead guilty the next stage is for you to be sentenced.

Pleading not guilty

If you plead not guilty, a date will be arranged for the evidence to be heard, also known as the trial. You must come back to court on that day and bring any paperwork that may be needed. If you have any witnesses that you want to give evidence to support your case, they will also need to come to court on the trial day.

If you do not come to court on the trial day then the court may still continue to hear the trial in your absence. This means that the only evidence they would hear will be from the prosecution, for example those who are saying that you committed the crime. The court will not hear what you have to say, and you are therefore likely to be convicted or found guilty, with a warrant for your arrest issued. This is why it is very important that you attend court when you are told to.


If you plead guilty or are found guilty following a court case, you will be sentenced. Sentence can take place on the day you plead guilty or after the trial if you are found guilty or convicted, so long as the court has enough information available to them. If they need more information about you then the case may be adjourned or postponed for reports to be prepared by the Youth Offending Team (YOT). You may need to speak to the YOT before you leave court. During the adjournment you will meet with the YOT so that they can write a report for the court to help them decide the most appropriate sentence for you.

Types of sentences

Absolute or Conditional Discharge

An Absolute Discharge is given when the court decides that no sentence is needed.

A Conditional Discharge means that you receive no immediate sentence. A period of between six months and three years is set and, as long as you do not commit a further offence during this time, no other punishment will be imposed. If you do commit another offence and plead guilty or are found guilty then you can be sentenced for the original offence as well as the new one.


A fine is based on the seriousness of the offence and how much money you have. If you are under 16 years of age, your parents or carer will be responsible for paying the fine. The court will probably suggest that if your parent or carer pays the fine for you, then you should do work around the house or give up your pocket money to pay them back over time.

Reparation Order

The aim of a reparation order is to make you understand the effect that your offending has had on you and others. They are also used to help you to take responsibility for your behaviour. You have the opportunity to repair any harm caused by your offence either to the victim or to your community. Examples of this might be cleaning up graffiti or carrying out community work. A reparation order is overseen by the YOT.

Referral Order

A Referral Order is the main sentence given when a young person pleads guilty to an offence when it is their first time in court.

If it is a very serious offence then the court can impose a custodial sentence instead. If the offence is relatively minor such as a traffic offence or fare evasion then a fine or an absolute discharge may be given instead of the referral order.

If you are given a referral order you are required to attend a youth offender panel, which is made up of two volunteers from the local community and a panel adviser from the YOT. Your parent or carer will come to the first meeting where you agree a contract lasting between three and 12 months. The aim of this contract is to repair any harm caused by the offence and help you to stop offending in the future.

Click here for more information on youth offender panels

Your rights

Youth Rehabilitation Order

The Youth Rehabilitation Order (YRO) is the main community sentence for young people and can include a number of requirements including intensive supervision, unpaid work, curfews or electronic monitoring. Electronic monitoring is when a young person is required to wear an electronic tag on their ankle to monitor their movement.

Detention and Training Order

The Detention and Training Order (DTO) is a custodial sentence sometimes given to 12-17 year olds. The minimum sentence is for 4 months and the maximum is 2 years, but the possible length of sentences can vary.

The first half of the sentence is spent in custody, but the second half is spent in the community under the supervision of the YOT.