All young people who plead guilty to a first offence in court must receive a Referral Order, unless they are given an absolute discharge, or the offence is so serious that a Custodial Sentence is required. Since 27 April 2009 a Referral Order may also be made in certain circumstances for second offences.
Once a Referral Order is made, the young person is required to attend a Youth Offender Panel which is made up of a Youth Offending Team Officer and two volunteers from the local community. The Panel with the young person, their parents/carers and the victim (where appropriate) agree a contract lasting between 3 and 12 months. The contract can include attending programmes to address offending behaviour, repairing the harm done by their offence or a variety of other actions. The conviction is spent once the contract has been completed. Since 27 April 2009 the court has power to extend the contract on the recommendation of the Youth Offender Panel or the order can be revoked for good behaviour.