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Referral order

A referral order is a way of dealing with young people between 10 and 17 years old who have appeared in court for the first time and have pleaded guilty to the offence.

Referral orders are made for a minimum of three months and no longer than 12 months. The young person is ordered to appear before a referral order panel accompanied by their parents or carers.

Referral order panel meetings involve specially trained volunteer panel members, the young person and their parents or carers, a Youth Justice Service worker and in many cases the victim of the offence. All parties meet to negotiate a contract of reparation (payback) to the victim or community and a programme of work to address offending behaviour.

What is the aim of a referral order?

A referral order aims to prevent re-offending by making sure that the young person is made aware of the impact and consequences of their criminal activity.

Referral orders take into account the wishes and feelings of the victims of crime, and allow them where possible to have a say in what is agreed in the young person’s contract.

Referral orders give the young person a second chance of a non-criminal future, as the sentence is ‘spent’ (which means it does not need to usually be disclosed to an employer) at the end of the order, provided the panel agrees that the young person has kept to the terms of their contract.

What is in a referral order contract?

The panel chair will agree a contract of interventions with the young person. This may involve mediation, where the offender meets his or her victim in person to explain what they did and why. The victim will be given the opportunity to ask the young offender to do some work, either for themselves or the community as ‘payback’ for the offence. This is known as reparation.

The reparation may involve the offender writing a letter of apology and/or taking part in several hours of practical activity to benefit the victims of their offence. Where the victim does not want direct reparation, then the offender can carry out indirect reparation instead. This will involve some activity or series of activities carried out for the benefit of the community. There will be some specific offence-focused work, victim awareness sessions and positive activities included in the contract.

The contract will be signed by the panel chair, the young person and his or her parent or carer. A referral order does not start until the contract is signed, when it becomes a legally binding document. Failure to complete any aspect of the contract, without panel agreement, will result in the young person being returned to court.

What will happen if the young person fails to co-operate?

At most, the young person will be given two written warnings before the panel decides that non-compliance (breach) proceedings are taken.

Non-compliance proceedings will involve the panel returning the young person back to court. The court may re-order the young person to comply with the panel or they may revoke (cancel) the order and re-sentence the young person for the original offence.

Non-compliance proceedings can be requested by the panel at any stage of the order (regardless of the length of time it has to run) and without prior warning if failure to comply is serious, such as an attempt to avoid its completion or serious misconduct.

Failure to comply with a referral order and re-sentence in court will leave the young person with a criminal record that must be disclosed.

What is the role of parents or carers in referral orders?

Parents or carers should:

  • Attend referral order panels with the young person
  • Encourage the young person to appreciate fully the consequences of their offending behaviour
  • Make sure that the young person attends on time and successfully completes the activities assigned him/her
  • Co-operate with any specific requirements placed on them by the referral order panel members

The failure of the parent or carer named on a referral order to attend panels could result in the named parent or carer receiving a parenting order. Therefore, it is vital that if you experience difficulties due to other commitments, such as work, you inform the panel and the Youth Justice Service at the earliest opportunity.

If you are interested in becoming a referral order volunteer please contact the Youth Justice Service.

If you are worried about the safety or wellbeing of a child or young person in Devon,
please complete the request for support online form.


If you think that the child is at risk of significant harm,
contact our Front Door directly by calling 0345 155 1071.


In an emergency call 999.