Our youth court specialist Rob Moussalli speaks with students from Winstanley College in Wigan and provides careers advice to those thinking of embarking on a career in Criminal Law. The virtual meeting took place over Microsoft Teams and involved over 20 students who are currently studying law and criminology.
Rob is a specialist youth court solicitor at Burton Copeland and last year featured in a podcast by the Guardian entitled “A Day Inside the Hidden World of Youth Courts”. He was asked to talk to them about life as a criminal solicitor. In particular Rob was asked specifically about youth crime and how the system functions. He said, “It was very enjoyable speaking to the students and trying to give them an idea of what the job is like and how the system works”.
Some of the questions posed by the students and Rob’s answers are as follows:
What is a typical day like?
Overall, my job is extremely interesting and at times exciting. It can be very unpredictable and also at at times can be stressful.
What impact has austerity had on young offenders?
Austerity has had a negative impact in many ways. Firstly, the most disadvantaged youths have been hit by the cuts to local authority funding due to closure of youth centres, cuts to the education budget and massive cuts to mentoring programmes. This has been mirrored by huge delays in access to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) for youths with mental health or behavioural issues. Secondly, the criminal justice system has suffered swingeing cuts leading to cuts in Bail Support programmes, and cuts to YOS (Youth Offending Services). In addition, the cuts to the police budget and increasing use of RUI (Released Under Investigation) has led to massive delays in cases coming to court.
What REALLY is the main sentencing aim for young offenders, and do the sentences work?
When properly funded the YOS interventions both pre-charge or as sentences can be effective in reducing reoffending. That is after all, the main purpose of the Youth Court. But it is vital that interventions are timely. Many youths are released under investigation for lengthy periods. In most cases it could be anywhere between 6 months – 2 years before their case comes to court. Rapid intervention is sadly now all too rare. It is very difficult for any sentence to be effective when a large period of time has elapsed between the offence and the punishment.
Do you believe in nature or nature?
In my experience that both are very important, but individual circumstances seem to play the biggest role in young people committing offences.
Do you believe there is more education to do to lessen youth offending?
I have to say that in my experience the biggest driver towards offending is the failure of the education system and social services to adequately cater for and assist non neuro-typical children. There is a regular pattern of behavioural issues being just about managed in primary school but not properly diagnosed. When the child enters secondary school without proper support there is usually a decline in attendance, exclusions or suspensions by the school. This is followed by trying to offload the child into a pupil referral unit or other alternative provision, or else the child ends up out of education altogether.
What are the main causes for youth offending?
Sadly, I would say my experience over the last many years has been that over 80% of defendants appearing in the Youth court have some sort of mental health, learning or emotional issue such as ADHD, autism, PTSD or learning disability. Many of them are not in education and haven’t been for years, usually through no fault of the parent, but due to lack of appropriate provision. A truly sad state of affairs in a supposedly advanced society.
In terms of criminal defence as a career, it is by far the worst remunerated branch of law but is still in my view the most interesting. So, my advice to any student considering it, is go into it for the right reasons!