Skip to main content


“Our sons and daughters”: is maturity considered in the magistrates’ court?

Fionnuala Ratcliffe and Penelope Gibbs
21 May 2024
Read the full report
Read the full report Download
To see how our sons and, yes, daughters may be treated in the magistrates’ court is an eye opener. I am grateful to receive the chance to record proceedings...and perhaps diminish the risk of unfairness.

How are young adults treated in the magistrates’ courts? How, if at all, is their maturity considered and taken into account by the court? This report answers these questions based on observations of almost 200 hearings involving young adult defendants. It is based on data from CourtWatch London, a mass court observation project where citizen volunteers observed magistrates’ court hearings and reported what they saw. 

The testimony from our courtwatchers shows that maturity is often not mentioned or considered by the magistrates’ court, and almost never in a specific way.

When mentioned, arguments about maturity did sometimes prompt the court to reduce the severity of the sentence given, or at least to postpone sentencing until they had more information about the defendant. But most of the time, comments about maturity were dismissed by court decision makers or deprioritised compared to other factors. 

Courtwatchers observed young adults being treated much the same as older defendants, with little direct engagement with young adult defendants, frequent use of the secure dock and challenges arranging interpreters.

Young adults are the most likely age group to “grow out of crime,” but for that to happen we need a court system that recognises and responds to developing maturity appropriately. The report includes some recommendations for how to improve the court’s consideration of maturity for young adults. 

Read the full report
Read the full report Download
Transform Justice