Guilty Pleas in Child Defendants

This project explores guilty pleas in children. The main aim of the project is to produce and publicise (1) a report that provides policy makers and practitioners with information relating to guilty pleas in child defendants, (2) model guidelines and training materials for practitioners working with children making guilty plea decisions, (3) an empirical base of information on guilty pleas in children.


Dr. Rebecca K. Helm (Exeter) and Penelope Gibbs (Transform Justice)

Research Assistants: Stephanie Hunt (Exeter) and Sarvenaz Ghattan (Exeter)

Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council (£17,850)

Project length: 12 months.

About the Project

The modern criminal justice system in England and Wales is heavily reliant on guilty pleas. Research suggests that children may be particularly vulnerable in this type of system and are likely to be systematically pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit. This is important since our research suggests vulnerabilities in children are not addressed by current procedure, and because there is currently almost no available empirical data on guilty pleas in children. This means there are significant problems in this area and a lack of awareness of those problems and of what reforms are necessary to address them.

The primary aim of this project is the production of an accessible policy report that provides policy makers and practitioners with information and recommendations relating to guilty pleas and other incentivised admissions (e.g. admissions in exchange for diversion from prosecution) in children. The report will detail existing research and include new information obtained from freedom of information requests and roundtable discussions and interviews with stakeholders, in order to provide a detailed evidence-base on guilty pleas in children. It will focus on vulnerability caused by neuro-typical immaturity, but will also note additional considerations relating to children with common neurodevelopmental disorders. Model best practice standards will be developed based on the report, and a workshop to share and discuss key points from the report will be organised at the University of Exeter. We will be supported in the production and distribution of the report by the Law Society of England and Wales.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY