Adulthood comes with a lot of new freedoms. It also comes with a lot of new responsibilities. Adults need to know how to educate themselves about local and national issues, how to register and vote and what jury duty is. Adults also need to know how to advocate for themselves, their communities, and for issues they care about.
They need to know the basics of the laws that apply to them, and the potential consequences should they choose to ignore them.
Mental Capacity and making your own decisions
Mental capacity is the ability of a young person over the age of 16 to make their own decisions. This means being able to:
- understand information given to them in relation to a decision
- remember the information long enough to make a decision
- use or weigh up the information available
- communicate their decision in any way which can be recognised
If they are unable to meet these criteria, they are considered to be ‘lacking capacity’. This can include young people with learning disabilities, mental health problems or brain injury.
When a young person over the age of 16 has been assessed as lacking mental capacity, there may be many different people and agencies involved in making decisions on their behalf, depending on the complexity of the situation. This includes parents, medical and educational professionals and other agencies.
The Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA) provides a clear framework for parents on who should be consulted in the decision-making process, and in what circumstances (for example in life-saving treatment).
The Equality Act 2010 and Disability rights
People with a disability have rights to protect you from discrimination. These rights cover most areas including employment, education and dealing with the police.
The Equality Act 2010 and the United Nations (UN) Convention on disability rights help to enforce, protect and promote your rights.
Employment– It’s against the law for employers to discriminate against you because of a disability.
An employer has to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to avoid you being put at a disadvantage compared to non-disabled people in the workplace. For example, adjusting your working hours or providing you with a special piece of equipment to help you do the job.
Education– It’s against the law for a school or other education provider to treat disabled students unfavourably.
An education provider has a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make sure disabled students are not discriminated against. These changes could include providing extra support and aids (like specialist teachers or equipment).
All universities and higher education colleges should have a person in charge of disability issues that you can talk to about the support they offer.
Police– If you’re being questioned or interviewed at a police station you have certain rights depending on your impairment. The police should only interview someone who has a learning disability when a responsible person (referred to as an ‘appropriate adult’) is present. The appropriate adult should not work for the police and should have experience of people with learning disabilities. The police can interview you without an appropriate adult if a delay would result in harm to people, property or evidence.
Young people and the law
The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years old. Children between 10 and 17 can be arrested and taken to court if they commit a crime. Young people aged 18 are treated as an adult by the law. If they’re sent to prison, they’ll be sent to a place that holds 18 to 25-year-olds, not a full adult prison.
Youth offending teams
Youth offending teams work with young people that get into trouble with the law. They look into the background of a young person and try to help them stay away from crime. The youth offending team gets involved if a young person:
- gets into trouble with the police or is arrested
- is charged with a crime and has to go to court
- is convicted of a crime and given a sentence
A passport is a travel document issued by a country’s government to its citizens that verifies the identity and nationality of the holder for the purpose of international travel. Passports are small booklets that typically contain the bearer’s name, place of birth, date of birth, the date of issue, date of expiry, passport number, photo and signature. You can apply online for a passport:
You can also use your driving licence for ID and can apply for your provisional licence when you are 15 years and 9 months old.
You need to be registered to vote before you can vote in UK elections or referendums. You can vote:
- in person at a polling station
- by post
- by asking someone else to vote for you (voting by proxy)
You cannot vote online in any elections.
You can vote when you’re:
- 18 years old in England and Northern Ireland
- 16 years old in Scottish Parliament and local elections (and other elections when you’re 18)
- 16 years old in Welsh Parliament (Senedd) and local elections (and other elections when you’re 18)
You can vote in:
- General elections (elections to the UK Parliament) usually take place every 5 years.
- Local government elections take place at least every 4 years. Not all local government elections take place at the same time.
If you get a jury summons in the post, you must respond within 7 days and confirm if you can attend. Your name was chosen randomly from the electoral register. You’ll be part of a jury of 12 people to decide the outcome of a criminal trial.