Section 18: The Law
Children and the Law
Programme Legal Advice should be consulted whenever there are queries about the law as it affects children.
Children Involved in Criminal Cases
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland people accused of committing offences while under 18 are usually dealt with in Youth Courts. In Scotland, a young person accused of criminal behaviour is treated as an adult from the age of16, except in children's hearings.
In Youth Court proceedings, there is an automatic ban on anything which might lead to the identification of a witness, defendant or other party in those proceedings who is under 18.
This includes a prohibition of giving the name, address or school, as well as the use of pictures.
In other courts, there is no automatic restriction but the court can make an order preventing identification of a child involved in the proceedings.
The restrictions for Youth Courts also apply to Children's Panel/Referral cases.
Children Involved in Civil Cases
Other court proceedings involving children may be heard in magistrates' courts, County Courts, or the High Court. They may deal with care proceedings, adoption or guardianship.
The Children’s Hearings System
The Children's Hearings system deals with children in Scotland. Any child involved in a hearing before the Children's Panel or an associated referral hearing before a Sheriff cannot be identified. It is forbidden to broadcast anything in respect of any case about which Scotland's Principal Reporter has received information or any matter to do with a children's hearing which is likely to identify any child concerned in any way with the case. Please note that this may include not just victims and witnesses, but children who are brothers, sisters, friends etc. Note too that contentious Children's Panel cases can end up in the Sheriff Court. If they do, they are still covered by this wide prohibition.
For children's hearing purposes, a person remains a child until he or she turns 18.
Courts Sitting in Private
In any courts sitting in private, it is usually a contempt to broadcast detailed accounts of child related hearings. This will include proceedings involving wardship, adoption and guardianship of an infant.
In wardship cases it is not contempt to report the court's order or an accurate summary of it, unless the court expressly forbids this.
Protection of Children Act
The Protection of Children Act (1978) covers cases of children filmed, or otherwise displayed, for pornographic purposes. It is an offence under the act to:
- take an indecent photograph of a child under the age of 16
- involve a child under 16 in a photograph that is itself indecent even if the child's role is not.