THE way young people were treated in the justice system changed forever with the introduction of youth courts 100 years ago.

Youth courts were established under the Children Act, which required specific courts to deal with 10 to16 year olds and abolished the use of custody for those under 14.

Records show that before youth courts, a 14-year-old convicted of theft could have been sentenced to death.

A typical daily diet in prison in the late 1800s for a juvenile would have comprised a pint of gruel and 6oz bread for breakfast and supper, with 3oz dressed meat, 1lb potatoes and 4oz bread for lunch.

The Children Act’s main aim was to educate and reform young offenders instead of just punishing them, by treating them differently to adults.

Jill Gramann, chairman of Kidderminster Magistrates Youth Panel, said: “Before the Children Act, young people had no legal representation in court and magistrates would just ask the adults involved what had happened.

“Now we hear a defence and prosecution and then speak to the young person. We try and speak on their level and ask them what happened.

“It encourages them to focus on why they have offended and we actually get them to say things like, ‘I know it was wrong’.”

Mrs Gramann explained the types of crimes committed by young people more than 100 years ago were “very different” to today.

She went on: “There were thefts from shops but there wasn’t much anti-social behaviour.

“A lot of the youngsters were kicking footballs against a wall or riding their bikes in the wrong places — now many of the crimes we see are fuelled by alcohol.”

The magistrates bench was dominated by prominent male members of the community including mayors, estate agents and bank managers.

One of the most well known Wyre Forest JPs was Langley Kitching, who was Mayor of Bewdley twice between 1890 and 1901.

Mr Kitching was a major force in getting a piped water supply to the people of Bewdley in 1901 and lived in a house on Park Lane that was later demolished as it was too close to a fault line.

An open day at Kidderminster Magistrates Court is being held to celebrate 100 years of youth justice.

Visitors will have the chance to see a court session from 1909 re-enacted, based on a transcript from a genuine case.

A mock 2009 youth court will also be set up, using working defence lawyers, representatives of the Crown Prosecution Service and Youth Offending Service members.

The court sessions will run throughout the day at 10am, 11am, midday, 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm, with question and answer sessions being held at 11.30am and 1pm.

The open day is being staged at the courts, in Comberton Place, on September 9, from 9.30am to 4pm.