Youth courts could be axed

CHORLEY’S youth court services could be scrapped under a dramatic shake-up of the local justice system.

In a leaked report seen by the Lancashire Evening Post, Chorley Youth Panel has given a damning response to plans to relocate all youth services from the town over to neighbouring areas.

Plans laid out in a discussion paper by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) in Lancashire recommend:

- stripping Chorley Magistrates’ Court of powers to deal with children between the ages of 10 and 17;

- scrapping Chorley’s Youth Panel, who deal with youth matters;

- and transporting children to neighbouring Preston or Ormskirk to be dealt with.

The news comes after magistrates raised fears about the future of Chorley Magistrates’ Court after police revealed plans to close cells at Leyland Police Station.

This would mean detainees being transported to Preston, Ormskirk, Skelmersdale and Blackburn.

In response to the new plans laid out by HMCTS to make efficiency savings, Chorley Youth Panel said proposals were “not in the best interests of youth justice in Chorley”.

They said: “The panel feels very strongly that speedy, effective justice for young people will be severely compromised by this proposal.

“The panel believes that the case for relocating all the Chorley work to Preston is not made out.”

They go on to explain that young people failing to attend hearings often use the excuse that they cannot afford the bus fare. The standard cost of a train ticket from Chorley to Preston is £6.50.

The youth court is based in Chorley Magistrates’ Court in separate rooms which specifically deal with young people.

“They differ to adult courts in that they do not have a formal dock and the youngsters are dealt with by specially-trained youth court magistrates. Chorley currently has roughly 60 magistrates, around 15 of which are trained to sit in on youth proceedings.

Coun Mark Perks, cabinet member for young people at Lancashire County Council, said: “Having spoken to youth magistrates and magistrates I am concerned from a point of view of the youth courts moving to Preston.

“We are talking about young people who are disadvantaged and, in some cases, their lives are in crisis.

“There is a lot of background knowledge provided to the magistrates so they can make informed decisions. My fear is that will be lost.

“A lot of young people who go to youth courts are first-time offenders. It may be just a one-off blip.

“It is because of the service they are given that they may never get into the adult system.

“The experience of going to court often puts a lot of young people off reoffending.”

The plans are set to become a formal proposal and will then undergo a formal 12-week consultation period.