Criminal Care? · 8 Feb 2019
A child’s treatment in court
In December 2018 we published our fourth briefing. This is our story: Children and young people on criminalisation in residential care contained extracts from interviews with four children and young people, talking about how they were criminalised in residential care.
One of the young people featured was Eddie (not his real name). Eddie was criminalised whilst living in a children’s home because of the spiteful, unsympathetic and abusive actions of a member of staff following a self-harm incident, which Eddie talks about in detail in the briefing. Eddie describes below what happened to him when he went to court. He talks about the treatment he received and how it made him feel. These are Eddie’s words:
“I recall vividly the long wait for my solicitor to arrive at court. In retrospect only naivety could explain my hopeful anticipation of their arrival; but I was a young teenager with no previous experience of this kind of situation.
“About twenty minutes after the agreed time for meeting a woman came into the waiting room and loudly asked for me by name. ‘I’m here,’ I said, encouraging her approach and feeling hopeful that here was someone who would help me. I was to be very disappointed. I recall that she spoke to me in such a patronising way that I felt like a toddler being spoken to with insincere attempts at empathy.
“She gave the impression that she didn’t want to be there and she certainly didn’t try to help me; her advice was basically, ‘You don’t have much of a chance.’ As I sat in the interview room in the court house listening to her, I stared at the smallest detail on the plain wall, trying my hardest to concentrate so hard that I could distract myself from the situation. I was finding it hard to breathe and I felt like screaming, it all seemed so unfair.
“It wouldn’t be an over-exaggeration to say that I was petrified with fear and mortified by shock. I was the kind of well-behaved boy who would be astonished if someone swore at a teacher and who avoided the back row in the classroom in case the other kids sitting there disrupted the class. I had no idea about the justice system or how this potential conviction could impact me, but I did recognise that the consequences were terrible for me.
I was petrified with fear and mortified by shock
“Eventually, I was called into the courtroom and asked to stand before a group of people I knew to be judges, although that wasn’t explained to me. My legs began to shake uncontrollably and no matter how hard I tried to stop them they would not remain still. I didn’t know if I should sit or stand. I did glance over to my solicitor for cues but I didn’t get any; her mind seemed to be occupied on something else.
“After some formalities one of the judges who I now know to be magistrates directed me to sit down. I thought this would help me stop shaking. Unfortunately, it didn’t but it did at least allow me to place my hands over my knees so that the shaking was less noticeable.
“Soon after the magistrates directed me to stand once again and an imposing figure from across the courtroom began to ask me questions. ‘Why did you bite him?’ he said to me.
“I answered the question honestly by recounting how a care home worker placed their knee onto my chest during restraint so hard that I struggled to breathe. My survival instinct kicked in which resulted in me biting the man on his arm – something not hard to do when his arm was over part of my face.
“It wasn’t the man who had deprived me of my very ability to breathe who was standing on trial though – it was me. This took an immense and indescribable emotional toll. As I told the court my story, I tried to remain strong, but the emotions consumed me and brought me to a state barely describable. I knew I was a victim but I was having to defend myself from a criminal sentence. Every part of me cried out that this wasn’t something that should happen in a civilized society.
“After I spoke, I was told by the magistrates something I already inherently knew – that I was innocent. They also told me that I was an articulate young man who should go ‘very far one day’. These remarks were of little solace and did nothing to bring about fair and just consequences for the man who had inflicted so much suffering on me. Not only did he go unpunished for what he did to me but he continued to work in children’s homes – I was subjected to his ‘care’ again when he came to work in the home I was moved to after this event (it was run by the same providers as my previous home).
“The care worker’s actions were abusive and violated the trust that I placed in him to care for me. The emotional scars of that day sit side-by-side with other memories of childhood abuse, including having my skull fractured by my mother’s ex-partner. It seems so wrong that I stood trial and continue to carry the wounds of what he did to me while he got off scot-free.”
One of the many points Eddie’s story highlights is the importance to a child of having a youth justice specialist lawyer who cares about children living in residential care and who understands their needs and situation. We are currently working on a guide for lawyers working with children in care, which will be produced jointly with the Youth Justice Legal Centre. This guide should hopefully be published in the spring.