Shauneen Lambe

Ashoka Fellow
United Kingdom,
Fellow Since 2012


This profile was prepared when Shauneen Lambe was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Just for Kids Law uses the power of the law to fundamentally change the way that young people are treated and supported in the criminal justice system: providing personal support, advocacy, and legal expertise to help young people tackle the problems they face in their daily lives. From her personal experience of working as an attorney defending young people on death row, Shauneen realized that with earlier intervention many of her clients would not have ended up facing the death penalty. She saw that the moment young people first came into contact with the criminal justice system was a crucial tipping point in their lives, when they could be given the appropriate guidance and support to change their futures. Shauneen believes that lawyers are uniquely positioned to identify the broader needs of child defendants and make sure they are addressed. Just for Kids Law staff provide direct representation for children and young people in court, but also in proceedings where legal help is not traditionally available: they help children access housing, training, or re-entry into the education system. Furthermore, their youth advocates ensure that young people with mental health problems, learning disabilities or special educational needs are properly assessed and receive the support they need. Just for Kids Law therefore acts as a bridge between the criminal justice system and the social support available for young people. In many instances, Shauneen advocates for young people who have not received the most basic services they are entitled to receive. By broadening the remit of lawyers defending young people to tackle this problem, Shauneen is introducing a child-led, rights-based approach to addressing youth offending.

As an independent not-for-profit organization, Just for Kids Law can leverage the power of the law to hold all players in the youth justice system accountable. Just for Kids staff use their expertise to threaten local authorities and statutory support organizations with legal action if they do not provide the correct assistance. Their lawyers can also take formal action against legal practitioners who do not abide by the regulations that are in place to protect young people—for example, if a judge fails to protect the annonymity of a young offender. As an independent organization, Just for Kids Law is therefore able to put pressure on all the key stakeholders in the youth justice system to ensure they are providing the best possible support for young people by introducing a level of accountability.

As well as using the law to change the provision of support for young people outside of the courtroom, Shauneen is reframing the way that young people are defended inside the court both through her own legal work and through her training programmes for other lawyers. The way that lawyers traditionally argue a court case is focused narrowly on the act of the crime itself and whether a judgement of guilty or not-guilty can be reached. However, Shauneen believes that a broader perspective must be used, incorporating mitigation: understanding the personal stories that might have led a young person to offend, such as their parental situation, housing needs or medical circumstances, and using them as mitigating factors when judging and sentencing. Shauneen sees Just for Kids Law as a connector between the two key parties in the criminal justice system—on the one hand influencing the judges, magistrates and lawyers, while at the same time understanding and empathizing with the young people they represent. Shauneen therefore personally takes on the most complex and strategic court cases, to set legal precedents of a child’s rights based approach for the rest of the youth justice sector and to introduce elements of mitigation to youth cases. In addition, Just for Kids Law transforms the youth justice system by training legal practitioners in their models of best practice, mitigation, and personal support for youths. By training lawyers to reveal the reasons that might have led a young person to offend, Shauneen is introducing empathy within the courtroom and allowing the root causes of a young person’s criminal behavior to be addressed. In a legal system and cultural climate that criminalizes youths, Shauneen offers a successful, multi-level solution that will fundamentally change how children experience the youth justice system.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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