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Youth court cannot hear case

12 September 2011

The Crown Court has no power to refer young offenders to the youth court, Sir Anthony May, president of the Queen’s Bench Division, has said.

Sir Anthony was giving judgment in the High Court on a judicial review brought by a 14-year-old boy charged with burglary of a dwelling house and witness intimidation. The boy denied the charges.

Delivering judgment in R (on the application of W) v Leeds Crown Court and the CPS [2011] EWHC 2326 (Admin), Sir Anthony said there was “universal agreement” that the Crown Court should have the power to remit cases to the youth courts.

“However, this court is not the legislature and cannot engage in judicial legislation at will, however desirable it might be.”

Sir Anthony said magistrates’ courts had an express power to remit cases to the youth court under section 29 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980.

He said counsel for the claimant in the Leeds case argued that the courts should ‘read into’ the words in the Act to provide the Crown Court with a similar power.

However, counsel for the defendants made the “obvious but nevertheless important” point that section 29 was “all about magistrates”.

Dismissing W’s appeal, Sir Anthony said it would be “highly desirable” if the Crown Court had the power.

“There is no doubt but that it would be highly desirable for the Crown Court to have the power that is contended for in this case,” he said.

“It would only be a power which the Crown Court would not be obliged to operate if there were good and compelling reasons for not doing so, as for instance where the adult who had pleaded guilty remained to be sentenced and the court reckoned that it ought to hear the evidence in the case of the child or young person before proceeding to sentence the adult.”

Sir Anthony added that he “felt strongly” that the matter required the attention of parliament and could be dealt with by a “straightforward and short” piece of legislation. Mr Justice Langstaff agreed.

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