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“They just don’t understand what’s happened or why”: A report on child defendants and video links

Over the last decade, defendants of all ages have increasingly been appearing in court on a live video screen rather than attending hearings in person. This slow but steady change to the administration of justice has occurred with little scrutiny or consultation, and there is a dearth of research into the impact appearing on video can have on a defendant’s ability to effectively participate in their hearing, and on justice outcomes. There is even less available research that specifically considers the impact of ‘virtual justice’ on vulnerable groups, especially children.

SCYJ member Transform Justice recently produced a report, Defendants on video – conveyor belt justice or a revolution in access? (2017), which aims to address the general lack of research into video links, especially on their impact on vulnerable groups. This report draws on the research gathered and produced by Transform Justice, looking specifically at the impact that appearing in court via video link has on children in trouble with the law.

This report draws on qualitative data gathered by Transform Justice through two sources:

1. A Surveymonkey survey which was circulated via twitter and e-bulletins of criminal justice organisations such as the Criminal Bar Association and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). Respondents could skip some of the questions, but on average 180 people responded to each question. All had some experience of defendants’ video hearings, whether as magistrates, probation officers, lawyers, Youth Offending Team (YOT) workers, intermediaries or other. Dr Tim Bateman of the University of Bedford helped design this survey.

2. Eight in depth telephone interviews were conducted with some of the survey respondents. These were conducted by Mia Harris, a PhD student with the University of Oxford Centre for Criminology.

This report looks at responses that specifically discuss the impact of video links on children, from respondents with experience of children in court. The majority of relevant respondents were YOT workers, but there were also responses from criminal lawyers, magistrates, appropriate adults, legal advisers, police officers and more.