Attending court for criminal proceedings
Children and young people can be charged with criminal offences from the age of 10.
Most proceedings for criminal offences are commenced in, and determined by, the Children's Court. However, some proceedings may need to be determined by the District or Supreme court depending on the gravity of the offence.
Proceedings for traffic offences will ordinarily be dealt with in the local court provided the person alleged to have committed the offence was old enough to obtain a license or permit.
When hearing charges against children and young people, the Children's Court operates as a criminal jurisdiction.
The court can request that Juvenile Justice become involved with the child or young person under the terms of the:
- Children (Detention Centres) Act 1987
- Children (Community Service Orders) Act 1987
- Young Offenders Act 1997
- Children (Interstate Transfer of Offenders) Act 1988.
Right to legal representation
By law, children and young people have the right to get legal advice before making a formal statement to police.
When a child or young person is going to court they should have their own legal representation or ask to see the duty solicitor before going into the court room.
The Children’s Legal Service is a specialist unit of Legal Aid NSW. Legal Aid solicitors provide advice and represent children and young people under the age of 18 who are involved in criminal matters in the Children's Court.
Their aim is to ensure that children and young people have access to professional, face-to-face or telephone-based legal advice at any stage of their legal proceedings.
Children and young people who need advice about a criminal law problem are encouraged to contact the:
- Youth Hotline on 1800 101 810 (toll free from a landline)
- Bidura Children's Court on 02 9219 5120
- Parramatta Children's Court on 02 8688 3800.
If a child or young person is given a court Attendance Notice 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 notice, but ideally earlier to meet with their lawyer or the court’s duty solicitor.
The child or young person is entitled to be represented by a duty solicitor 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 solicitor. If the child or young person is already in contact with a Juvenile 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 a duty solicitor.
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 and no record of charge will be kept. Any related fingerprints or photographs will be destroyed.
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 address the court, although usually representations to the magistrate are made by the young person’s solicitor. The magistrate will then decide the child or young person's sentence on that day, or adjourn the matter until Juvenile Justice can provide a background report on the child.
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. The magistrate may decide to refer the child or young person to a Youth Justice Conference instead of issuing a sentence.
Attending court by audio visual link
If the child or young person is being detained in a Juvenile Justice Centre pending hearing of the matter before the court, they can appear by audio visual link instead of physically attending the court. This entails the child or young person being taken to a booth at the Juvenile Justice Centre. In the booth is a screen displaying the:
- court officials
- child or young person’s solicitor
- police prosecutor.
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.