Courts have a range of different sentences they can give children and young people aged from 10 to 17.


These are the same as for adult offenders. They are given for the least serious offences and mean that the child or young person is released from court without any further action. They will, however, still get a criminal record.

Absolute discharge – the court decides not to impose a punishment because the experience of going to court has been punishment enough.

Conditional discharge – if the child or young person commits another crime, they can be sentenced for the first offence as well as the new one.


As with adults, the fine should reflect the offence committed and the child or young person’s ability to pay. Where the child or young person is under 16  the parent/guardian is required to pay the fine and so it will be their ability to pay that is taken into account when setting the level of the fine.

Referral orders

A referral order requires the child or young person to attend a youth offender panel (made up of two members of the local community and an advisor from a youth offending team) and agree a contract, containing commitments, which will last between three months and a year.

The aim is for the child or young person to make up for the harm they have caused and do something about their offending behaviour. An order must be imposed for a first offence where the child or young person has pleaded guilty (unless the court decides that another sentence is justified) and may be imposed in other circumstances.

Youth rehabilitation orders

A Youth Rehabilitation Order is a community sentence. It can include one or more requirements that the offender must comply with, and can last for up to three years. Some examples of the requirements that can be imposed are a curfew, supervision, unpaid work, electronic monitoring, drug treatment, mental health treatment and education requirements.

Custodial sentences

Children and young people can receive custodial sentences but they will be imposed only in the most serious cases. When they are given, they aim to provide training and education and rehabilitate the offender so they do not reoffend. Sentences can be spent in secure children’s homes, secure training centres and young offender institutions.

If a child or young person between 12 and 17 years old is sentenced in the youth court, they could be given a Detention and Training Order. This can last between four months and two years.

A Detention and Training Order can also be given in the Crown Court. But, for more serious cases, longer-term detention can be imposed where the offence committed carries a maximum sentence of at least 14 years’ imprisonment or is one of the offences listed in section 250 of the Sentencing Code.

A sentence of detention for life or an extended sentence of detention may be imposed if a child or young person is convicted of a specified offence and the Crown Court considers that there is a significant risk of serious harm to members of the public from them committing further specified offences.

Detention during His Majesty’s Pleasure is a mandatory life sentence and will be imposed when a child or young person is convicted or pleads guilty to murder. Schedule 21 of the Sentencing Code states that the starting point for determining the minimum sentence where the offender is under 18 years of age is 12 years as opposed to 15 years for those over the age of 18.

Imposition of youth sentences

In 2022, around 12,000 children and young people were sentenced for a criminal offence. The majority (69 per cent) were issued with a community sentence.

Referral orders were the most common type of community sentence imposed in 2022, with 49 per cent of children and young people sentenced receiving a referral order. Discharges were received by 12 per cent of under 18s, fines by 11 per cent and immediate custody by 5 per cent.

There is more information in the Council’s guideline on Sentencing children and young people.

For more information on youth justice, see Youth Justice Board.