If a child or young person is given a summons or charged, they will have to attend the Children’s Court on a set date. They must be present at Court by the time specified in the summons, but ideally earlier to meet with their lawyer or the Court’s duty lawyer.
The child or young person is entitled to be represented by a duty lawyer who will interview them at court on the day they appear, if they (or their parents) have not appointed their own lawyer. Where possible, the child or young person’s parents or carers should also make themselves available for interview by the duty lawyer. If the child or young person is already in contact with a Youth Justice officer, that officer can also be contacted to discuss a child or young person’s appearance at court.
On their first appearance at Court for a specific offence(s), the child or young person will be asked to enter a plea - guilty or not guilty. The decision on how to plead should be made by the child or young person following advice from their lawyer.
If a child or young person pleads not guilty
The child will have to come back to court for a hearing where witnesses, including the police, will give evidence. Once all the evidence has been heard, the magistrate will decide whether the charges have been proven.
If the child or young person is found not guilty, the charges will be dismissed.
If the child or young person admits the offence or the offence is proven
The magistrate may ask the child or young person’s parent(s) or carers, if appropriate, to speak to the court, although this is usually done by the young person’s lawyer. The magistrate will then decide the child or young person's sentence on that day, or adjourn the matter until another date, usually to allow Youth Justice to assess the young person.
If the magistrate asks for a background report, the child or young person will have to return to court another day for sentencing after the report has been submitted and lodged with the court.
Attending Court by audio visual link
If the child or young person is being detained in a Youth Justice Centre pending hearing of the matter before the Court, they can appear by audio visual link instead of physically attending the Court.
Images of the child or young person appear on a screen in the Court and the Court hearing proceeds as if the child or young person was physically present.
The Court may grant unconditional bail, or conditional bail, and place the child or young person under the supervision of Youth Justice until the matter is finalised by the Court. Some common bail conditions may include:
- residing as directed, by youth justice or the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH)
- regularly attending school or place of employment
- not associating with certain people, co-offenders
- not consuming non-prescription drugs or alcohol
- reporting to Youth Justice as directed and complying with reasonable directions given by Youth Justice and/or parents/carers
- complying with curfews
- not attending certain places or premises e.g. a particular train station
- not contacting the victim.
If bail conditions are breached the child or young person will be arrested by the Police and be required to re-appear at the Children’s Court at which time the Magistrate will re-assess the order granting bail.
For young offenders, rehabilitation is the principal consideration in sentencing. Section 362(1) of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 outlines the considerations that must be taken into account when sentencing a young offender. The Court will also:
- give more weight to individual treatment and rehabilitation of the offender than punishment and general deterrence
- consider how close in age the offender is to 18
- give consideration to the age of each offender and how the offender’s youth has contributed to their offending behaviour and should be given weight in determining the correct penalty
- look at the particular circumstances of each matter when considering the deterrence element of a sentence
- take into account a guilty plea, and accordingly reduce any order it might otherwise have made.