Criminal Matters in the Childrens Court

Commencement of proceedings

Proceedings against a child or young person for a criminal offence are commenced either by the child or young person being summoned to attend the Childrens Court or by the child or young person being charged by the police.

Where the police have a child or young person in custody and charge the child or young person with an offence, the police will notify a person with parental responsibility for the child or young person about the:

  • charge;
  • child or young person’s location, and
  • time and place the child or young person will be brought before the Childrens Court.

When the child or young person appears before the court on the first occasion, if the matter is not to be finalised on that day, he or she may apply for bail. If the granting of bail is opposed it will be for the Magistrate to determine whether bail should be granted.

Matters will only be finalised on the first appearance if the young person pleads guilty and the Magistrate sentences the young person at that time.

Generally, the Magistrate will adjourn the matter to enable the child or young person to obtain legal advice. If the Magistrate refuses the child or young person bail, the magistrate will adjourn the matter for a maximum period of 7 days.

If the police proceed against a child or young person by way of summons, the child or young person will be served with a summons requiring their attendance at Court on a particular day and time.

Plea of guilty

A child or young person may plead guilty to an offence at any time the matter is before the Court.  An early plea of guilty may lead to a reduction in sentence.  The earlier a child or young person pleads guilty to an offence the greater the reduction in sentence possible.

In most matters, the Court will sentence the child or young person on the day they plead guilty.

Parent must attend

A parent of a child or young person is required to attend court whenever the child or young person is required to attend Court.  Where the Court has served a parent with a notice concerning the proceeding against their child and neither parent is present at Court for the proceedings the Court may issue a warrant directing the police to bring a parent of the child or young person before the Court.

Plea of not guilty

If a child or young person pleads not guilty to an offence, the Magistrate will adjourn the matter to another date for a case management hearing.

At the case management hearing the Magistrate will ask whether the child or young person and the prosecution are ready for the matter to be heard.  If ready to proceed, the Magistrate will list the matter for hearing on another date.  On that date, the child or young person will need to bring any witnesses and evidence supporting the defence to the Court.

At the hearing

At the hearing, the prosecution will present the evidence it has to establish that the child or young person committed the offence.  Once the prosecution has finished presenting its evidence, the child or young person will have the opportunity to submit to the Court that the prosecution has not established a case against them.  If, at the completion of the prosecution case the Magistrate is satisfied that the child or young person has a case to answer the child or young person has the opportunity to lead evidence to rebut the prosecution’s case.

Once the prosecution and defence have presented their evidence the prosecution and the child or young person have the opportunity to make submissions to the Court as to whether the prosecution has proved the child or young person’s guilt.  The prosecution must establish the child or young person’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Where the Magistrate finds the child or young person guilty, the next step in proceedings is to sentence the child or young person.  If the Magistrate finds the child or young person not guilty, he or she will dismiss the charge.

Sentencing  

Generally, the Magistrate who hears the case against the child or young person will sentence in relation to those offences where the magistrate finds them guilty. In some serious cases, the Magistrate may refer the child or young person to the Supreme Court for sentence.

Depending on the nature of the offence, the seriousness of the offence and the child or young person’s previous criminal history the Magistrate may order reports be prepared to assist the Magistrate to decide what is an appropriate penalty to impose on the child or young person.  If the Magistrate orders reports then the Magistrate will adjourn the matter to enable preparation of the reports.