Events and Blog

News on legislation and policy, NAYJ conferences and training events and youth justice news.


County lines cases: the state’s duties towards young defendants who may be victims of trafficking

Guidance from the Home Office states that children as young as 12 are being trafficked by criminal gangs to transport and distribute illegal drugs within the UK. Targeted children commonly come from unstable backgrounds; with histories of abuse, unavoidable gang ties, and mental health presentations.

The UK has domestic and international duties to protect such children from being trafficked. These duties come from different sources, including the: UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Palermo Protocol, Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, European Convention on Human Rights, the EU Directive 2011/36, and the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

County lines cases

But the UK is still failing to effectively fulfil its duties. In 2017 alone, 65% of forces reported child exploitation in county lines drugs cases. ‘County lines’ refers to the supply of illegal drugs from urban to suburban and coastal areas using mobile phone lines.

Children are targeted by these networks because they help their operations to run more effectively and profitably: children are less likely to be known to, or even suspected by, the police; they are less demanding; and they face more lenient criminal sentences than adults.

These gangs use children to transport and distribute drugs. They lure and control children by grooming them using gifts and false impressions of guardianship and protection. Violence is also common. They then arrange their accommodation and travel to and from places.

Child trafficking

Section 2 (1) of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 contains the offence of human trafficking: arranging or facilitating another person’s travel with a view to that person being exploited. Section 2 (5) states that travel includes ‘travelling within any country’. Children whose travel is being arranged or facilitated within the UK with a view to that child being exploited in county lines cases is therefore covered by the Act.

On 17 January 2018, at a Westminster Hall debate on the issue of child exploitation in county lines cases, Sarah Newton MP pledged that the UK must prioritise the welfare of children caught up in these gangs. In practice, however, children caught by the police are often charged with drugs-related offences and prosecuted. They tend to be treated as criminals, responsible for associating with gangs.

This violates the ‘non-punishment principle’, which is enshrined in, and effected by, the aforementioned laws. It demands that victims of trafficking should not be criminalised for offences committed as a direct result of their being trafficked.

Duties of the police, CPS and defence lawyers to protect child victims

To meet its legal obligations, the UK must ensure that its police forces and criminal courts are adequately trained to identify trafficking indicators and put this into practice. The UK has displayed this commitment in the context of child sexual exploitation, which it recognises as a form of abuse.

Proper training is just as crucial for preventing the criminal exploitation of children, as in these cases, indicators are also difficult to spot. Trafficked children are likely to be traumatised or too scared to reveal any abuse. Some may not even know they are being trafficked: the golden rule, said a child in a BBC documentary, is ‘loyal love’: love for the people who brought you into this game.

In general, indicators might include: missing episodes and frequent school absences, unexplained possessions or money, excessive phone communications, injuries, possession of weapons, and self-harm.

The police need to make relevant enquiries if such indicators are present, and refer potentially trafficked children to the National Referral Mechanism. The NRM was introduced in 2009 as a mechanism by which to identify potential trafficking victims. The process following a referral by the police or other first responder is two-fold: firstly, a reasonable grounds decision will be made as to whether the child is a potential trafficking victim; secondly, a conclusive decision will be made on whether it is more likely than not that the child is in fact a victim of trafficking.

This process should start before any child is charged: children should not be penalised if their involvement in drug supply networks is linked to their being trafficked for the purposes of exploitation. But often, charging decisions precede any consideration about whether the child is a victim of trafficking.

Hence why, criminal defence lawyers must take all reasonable steps to identify potential trafficking victims and be persistent and pro-active in causing enquiries to be made at the earliest stage of the case. This duty was emphasised by the Court of Appeal in R v O [2008] EWCA Crim 2835 and L, HVN, THN and T v R [2013] EWCA Crim 991.

If a trial proceeds despite trafficking concerns, Section 45 (4) of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 provides a statutory defence if the child: commits the offence as a direct consequence of being or having been a victim of slavery or relevant exploitation, and a reasonable person in the same situation and having the person’s relevant characteristics would have committed the offence (note, Schedule 4 contains a list of excluded offences). In R v VSJ and Others (Anti-Slavery International Intervening) [2017] EWCA Crim 36, the Court held: ‘Once it is established that a child is a victim of trafficking for the purposes of exploitation, the relevant consideration is whether there is a sufficient nexus between the trafficking for the purposes of exploitation and the offence; it is not necessary to [establish] compulsion’.

When finally at the mercy of state, children who may have been trafficked must have their rights and protections as potential victims observed. Police forces need to look out for any trafficking indicators and refer suspected child victims to the NRM. In the face of trafficking indicators, the CPS needs to make relevant enquiries to establish whether encountered children have been trafficked, instead of continuing to prosecute them. Otherwise, the current legal safeguards serve no meaningful purpose, and the child trafficking scandal will become more widespread and sophisticated.

Child custody: an inappropriate measure for vulnerable children from disadvantaged backgrounds By Annahita Moradi

AB, a 16-year old boy, had a traumatic childhood. It consisted of him being physically and emotionally abused. He watched his father beat his mother and take an overdose; and his uncle die from an overdose. He was diagnosed with ADHD, Conduct Disorder, and PTSD. Let down by all those around him, he was in and out of care since he was a baby.

AB eventually ended up in prison, where, despite his pre-existing mental health diagnoses and extreme vulnerabilities, he endured over 100 days in segregation. Sometimes, he was locked in his cell for over 22 hours a day.

On 04 July 2017, the High Court declared his isolation as unlawful and in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (AB v SSJ [2017] EWHC 1694 (Admin)). This was the result of the Howard League for Penal Reform’s legal challenge to Feltham YOI’s decision to isolate AB, and relentless campaigns against the use of segregation against children in custody.

Around the same time, the Sentencing Council published its new guidance on the application of sentencing principles and specific guidelines in cases involving youth defendants being sentenced from 01 June 2017.

The guidance emphasises that the primary purpose of the youth justice system is to prevent re-offending rather than to punish children, and it reiterates that custody is a last resort measure. The guidance also codifies the courts’ scope to consider child defendants’ socio-economic and familial backgrounds as mitigating factors.

Although this is just a guidance, Section 125 (1)(a) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 states that every court must follow the relevant sentencing guidelines. When sentencing youths therefore, the court must have regard to the new guidance.

The starting point for the court when sentencing is the seriousness of the offence (Paragraph 1.2). However, the guidance requires for the sentencing process to be child-focused. In other words, regard should be had to the child’s welfare, the likely effect of the sentence on the child, and the factors that may have contributed to the child’s offending behaviour.

Such factors include the child’s mental health issues, learning difficulties, susceptibility to self-harm and/or suicidal ideations, and immaturity (Paragraph 1.5). The courts should also consider the child’s background; including any exposure to abuse or neglect, offending by other family members, drugs and alcohol, discrimination, and negative experiences of authority (Paragraph 1.13). The child’s low education attainment can also be considered, as can their parents’ poor employment records. This recognises that children living in areas of acute social and economic deprivation in dangerous or negligent conditions are more susceptible to offending.

The guidance urges courts to always try to ensure that they can identify and respond to such factors. This is because the welfare of the child is paramount in sentencing proceedings, and it is the role of the sentencing judge to impose a sentence that will help the child to not re-offend. Courts must not lose sight of this principal aim, because punishment is not the primary purpose of youth sentencing.

In fact, the guidance emphasises that it is important to avoid criminalising children (Paragraph 1.4). This is not least because a criminal record will deprive the child, who might already be disadvantaged, of the opportunity to move on from crime towards education and employment (Paragraph 1.6).

If regard is had to these factors, then custody, in most cases, simply cannot be the answer to preventing re-offending and protecting the welfare of the child. In fact, custody can have the reverse effect. It can lead to the early manifestation of mental health conditions or exacerbate pre-existing ones. It can deprive the child of its domestic and international rights to education, development and adequate healthcare. It can expose the child to further trauma, abuse, and gang culture. All of which will set the child up to fail, in a never-ending cycle of offending, being arrested, sentenced, imprisoned, and released.

As Ken Clarke, the then Justice Secretary, put it on 13 July 2010: ‘There is and never has been […] any direct correlation between spiralling growth in the prison population and a fall in crime.’

AGM and Seminar 2018 – Tuesday 15 May 2018 – Youth justice: future directions

NAYJ is delighted that Louise Haigh MP and Shadow Minister for Policing, will join us as one of the speakers at our annual seminar. We are also grateful to Doughty Street Chambers for hosting this important event. The AGM (members only) starts at 12 noon. The seminar will run from 2pm to 5pm, followed by a drinks reception. Places are free to NAYJ members and there will be limited number of places available to non-members at a cost of £40 per person.

As in previous years, we are pleased to confirm that the event will be FREE for members, with excellent speakers relevant to your field of work.

Application form
Notice of Motion form
Trustee application form

‘Child Friendly Youth Justice?’ Event, Cambridge 25th September 2017



AGM and Seminar 2017: The State of Youth Custody

In this section, please find information relating to our 2017 AGM, to be held on 10th May at Doughty Street Chambers, London.

NAYJ is delighted that John Drew, former Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Board, will join us as one of the speakers at our annual seminar*. We are also grateful to Doughty Street Chambers for hosting this important event. The AGM (members only) starts at 1pm. The seminar will run from 2pm to 5pm, followed by a drinks reception. Places are free to NAYJ members and there will be limited number of places available to non-members at a cost of £60 per person, to register your interest please e mail

*Please note, that due to the pre-general election period (purdah), Charlie Taylor is no longer able to speak at this event. We are instead delighted to welcome John Drew, former Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Board.

As in previous years, we are pleased to confirm that the event will be FREE for members, with excellent speakers relevant to your field of work.

• John Drew (Chair, Youth Justice Board)
• Heidi Hales Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, based at HMYOI Cookham Wood)
• Carolyne Willow (Director, Article 39) and Thirza Smith (Manager, Clayfields House)
• Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC (Doughty Street Chambers)

AGM Start time: 1pm
Seminar start time: 2pm
Event close: 5pm
Drinks reception: from 5pm

Below are documents for you to download, complete and send to us here at

Application form (members)
Application form (non-members)
Notice of motion form
Trustee application form

Announcement of New Chair

The Trustee Board of the National Association for Youth Justice is delighted to announce that Ross Little, who has served as our Deputy Chair for the past year, will take over as Chair of the charity following the retirement of Pam Hibbert OBE. For more information click here.



When: Wednesday 17th May 2016

Where: 54 Doughty Street, Doughty Street Chambers, London WC1N 2LS.

There’s a great line up of speakers, including Charlie Taylor, who is undertaking the current review of youth justice on behalf of the Ministry of Justice.

We look forward to see you there!

Event: The costs of youth justice

When: Wednesday 14th October, 9.30-4.30pm

Where: The John Foster Building, 80-98 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, L3 5UZ

We look forward to see you there!

Response for Secure College Rules

Response to the consultation on the plans for Secure College Rules

The National Association for Youth Justice is a membership organization that campaigns for the rights of and justice for children in trouble with the law.

The NAYJ does not believe that Secure Colleges are the solution to the high re-offending rates of children in custody. The binary measure of reconviction used by Government has remained generally constant for over a decade. Given the welcome decrease in the number of children entering the system, and subsequently of those going into custody, it is unsurprising that we are left with a group of children with multiple problems and vulnerabilities who are frequently entrenched in their offending behavior patterns.

To expect any custodial institution, however good the education provision may be, to address this within the average 80 day sentence is unrealistic. NAYJ recognises absolutely the importance of education in helping children to change and progress. But given that currently we have no idea of either the content or quality of educational provision likely to be in place in a Secure College, it may be better to look at what evidence there is about educating troubled children. We would draw attention to a recent report by the Secure Accommodation Network (SAN) which shows that educational outcomes for children placed in SCHs are not only better than those achieved by other forms of custodial institution but also exceed those for children educated in PRUs and similar alternative education provision. We would also point to evidence from other institutions that achieve better educational outcomes such as the Ian Mikardo School in East London. This school takes children with a long history of behavioural problems, many of whom are in the criminal justice system. The school does not use punishments or physical force yet has been graded as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted for the last three years; 97% of the children go into further education, training or employment and none has received a custodial sentence in the last 7 years.

The Government has expressed concern about Secure Colleges being described as ‘child prisons’. However, it is difficult to see how the College differs from a traditional YOI. The proposed buildings are remarkably similar to previous plans for a YOI to be built on the same site and the proposed regime bears all the hallmarks of a traditional YOI approach.

We note with particular concern that the draft Secure College Rules provide for the use of adjudications and permit the use of force for ‘Good Order and Discipline’. Such an approach is entirely inconsistent with the College’s educational aims. Moreover, the recent update report from the Independent Restraint Advisory Board expresses serious concerns about the risk to children from some of the techniques allowed under the draft Rules. The NAYJ regards it as wholly unacceptable that force should be used other than to prevent harm. Recent legal opinion sought by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) casts serious doubt on the legality of such use of force which it also says is not permissible under the European Convention on Human Rights.

It is a fact that any intensive services likely to have a real impact on the outcomes for troubled children – mental health, residential and foster care or therapeutic interventions – are costly, and the UK is not an outlier when comparing the cost of such services with other industrialised countries.
At a time of constrained finances for everyone, we would contend that funding the construction of a new custodial facility for children would be an expensive experiment with no evidence that the outcomes will be improved – indeed all the evidence suggests that placing children in large establishments, miles away from their home community will not work.

For any queries about this response please e mail: or telephone 07957 575480.

1. ‘Achieving outcomes and value for money’ Secure Accommodation Network 2014
2. IRAP report into the implementation of MMPR. Ministry of Justice. October 2014
3. Briefing on the lawfulness of the use of force provisions in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. Children’s Rights Alliance for England. 2014

Yorkshire Association for Youth Justice seminar

Please find attached the flyer for Yorkshire Association for Youth Justice seminar on 15thDecember at Oxford Place Leeds
If you require a place please contact me as soon as possible  (link to the venue below)

It will be presented  by
Sean Creaney,
Senior Lecturer in Applied Social Sciences, University Centre, Stockport
& NAYJ Trustee

‘The benefits of participation for
young offenders’

Oxford Place
9.30 registration,
Finish at 12.30 pm.

Sean Creaney is a Senior Lecturer in Applied Social Sciences at the University Centre, Stockport College. Sean is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a PhD student at the School of Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University. He is a Trustee of the National Association for Youth Justice and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the Safer Communities peer reviewed journal.

Link to venue

Please complete the application form (click here to download) and send it to to book a place.