Northamptonshire Youth Offending Service

NYOS continuing with innovative practice

Problem Solving Sentencing Hearings.

NYOS is a proactive service that consistently reviews own practice and identifies opportunities to improve in order to meet the needs of the children and young people we work with.

The complexity of the needs of children we work with are evolving.  Along with our developing knowledge and collaborative working models with other agencies within the Criminal Justice and Social care arena we recognise that we have to adapt.

With the support of the Northamptonshire Magistracy, Northamptonshire Youth Offending Service (NYOS) has a commitment to ensure that young people sentenced in our Youth Courts are supported in Court in a manner that is appropriate to their age, maturity, communication needs, and their status as children. 

Requests for Problem Solving Hearings are made by either the NYOS Court team manager to the Chair of the Youth Panel and to the lead Legal Advisor for Youth Courts or by the courts themselves. The adjourning Bench also makes suggestions as to the attendance for the Problem Solving hearing.  Where there are concerns about a child’s welfare, the adjourning Bench may choose to combine the adjournment for a Problem Solving hearing with a Request under Section 9 (2) of the Children and Young Person’s Act 1969.  This places a duty on the Local Authority to make an investigation and provide information to the Court about factors around the child’s welfareFor the most complex cases, it is deemed appropriate that additional care should be taken, and that within the context of a problem-solving culture, a Problem Solving Hearing (PSH) is convened to ensure that the right outcomes are delivered.

Where it is felt that these issues are relevant to sentencing decisions, and that the issues are more complex than can be reasonably conveyed in a written pre-sentence report, NYOS may request a Problem Solving Hearing in which the Court receives information from a range of involved parties that may influence the sentencing decision.  In such cases, the Problem Solving Hearing also offers the opportunity for the young person to engage fully in the discussion.

Appropriate reasons for a request might include:

  • Concern that the Court will need an enhanced level of information to construct the most appropriate sentence

  • Concern that an Order, if made without specific guidance from the Court, might not meet the complex needs of the child

  • A view that an initial hearing in greater depth, followed by an enhanced level of YRO Reviews (or Referral Order Panels in the case of a Referral Order being made) could assist in the longer term management of the case

  • A child is at risk of custody, but an ISS is assessed to be unsuitable, leading to the need to construct a bespoke alternative to custody in the event of the Court considering this appropriate

The sentencing hearing begins in the usual manner up to the CPS presentation of the details of the offending.  The defence advocate is offered the choice of reserving their submission until all of the information has been presented, and usually adds their comments throughout the hearing. A verbal summary is offered by the lead NYOS representative present at the start of the hearing, and attendees are asked to introduce themselves.  The hearing is managed by the presiding justice, and while each case has unique needs, the guiding principles are:

  • Attendees are given opportunities to present their information before the Court necessary to assist its decision

  • The hearing is conducted in a manner that is formal, but flexible so participants are encouraged to participate, in the form of a discussion led by the presiding justice

  • the young person is fully involved and supported to understand and contribute

  • breaks are offered to the young person as necessary

Problem Solving Hearings result in a sentence.  At the end of the hearing, the lead NYOS representative articulates a verbal sentencing proposal based on the information laid by all parties. The desired outcome is a sentence that has been given the utmost consideration, taking into account all the complexities of the case.  This is a collaborative multi agency approach to meeting the needs of the child whilst providing consistent oversight to reduce risk and implement change. 

Young people have demonstrated that they felt listened to and that they were part of decision making outcome, they felt that the outcome was clear and that they knew what was expected of them and the agencies involved. Feedback from  courts and supporting agencies have endorsed children and families views.

 

If you would like more information regarding this developing area of practice please contact Quentin Goodman.