Going to court as a young person

If you were under 18 at the time of allegedly committing an offence, your case will be heard in the Youth Justice Court.

A matter will go to court if:

  • it is a serious matter
  • you don’t admit to committing the offence
  • a police officer does not offer the option of a formal caution or a community conference
  • a community conference fails to reach a decision; or you don’t attend the conference; or you don’t comply with an outcome of the conference.

If you’re 15 years or over, there are some serious offences you can choose to have dealt with in either the Youth Justice Court or the Supreme Court. You should seek legal advice before deciding which court to choose.

Who will be in court

There will usually be:

  • the Magistrate and court staff (including security guards)
  • the Police Prosecutor
  • a Department of Health and Human Services representative
  • you and your guardian and/or legal representative (if you have one)
  • witnesses
  • Child Protection representative
  • Save the Children
  • a Department of Education representative
  • Police Officer - early intervention
  • any other person the court considers appropriate, or may assist the court.

Youth Justice courts are generally closed courts. This means the media and all members of the public are not allowed inside the courtroom. The Magistrate can also send people out of the court if they cause a disturbance.

The Magistrate

The Magistrate runs the Youth Justice Court. They are called ‘Your Honour’ in court. They hear and make decisions about:

  • any charge against you for an offence
  • any application for a restraining order against you.

Understanding your rights

The court will make sure you understand:

  • the purpose of the court proceedings
  • your right to have a lawyer represent you
  • your rights around entering a plea, and the consequences of this
  • the offence and any penalties.

The court must also make sure you have access to any relevant reports or records; and that you understand you can comment on these.

The court must also consider your social, family and cultural background; and your age and maturity.

If you can't attend Court

It’s important to turn up to Court.

If you can't attend Court, you should contact the Court as soon as possible and explain why you can't attend.

If you don’t turn up without letting the Court know, you may be arrested by the police.

adjourn
to postpone a court hearing to another time or day

Getting legal advice

You should get legal advice before you go to Court, to help you:

  • prepare your case and
  • decide how you should plead.

If you are thinking about representing yourself because you can’t afford a lawyer, check if you can get legal aid.

If you haven’t had time to get legal advice, you can ask the Magistrate for an ‘adjournment’ before you plead guilty or not guilty. If the Magistrate agrees, the matter will be postponed to another day, to give you the chance to see a lawyer. You are entitled to an adjournment on your first appearance.

What happens if you are found guilty

If you are found guilty of an offence, the court can do any of these things:

  • dismiss the charge (which may include a reprimand or a good behaviour undertaking)
  • release you with conditions
  • fine you
  • make an order for probation, community service or detention. These will require a pre-sentence report
  • make an order for suspended detention
  • make an order for compensation or restitution (restoration) for any damages you’ve caused
  • order you to attend a community conference instead of imposing a sentence. Community conferences can be used to deal with less-serious matters

If you are sentenced to detention, a conviction will be recorded.

If you fail to comply with a court decision, there could be a new hearing and an increased penalty.

About youth justice workers

Youth Justice workers are appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services to :

  • provide information to the court about you, to help the Magistrate make their decisions
  • organise community conferences
  • supervise formal court orders (such as a probation or community service order)
  • manage your supervised release after detention).

The Youth Justice Act

The Youth Justice Division of the Magistrates Court operates according to the Youth Justice Act 1997. The main purpose of this Act is to encourage young people who have committed offences to take personal responsibility for their actions.