The youth justice system

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What is the youth justice system?

The Youth Justice Act 2005 (‘The Act’) provides an alternative to going to court for people under 18  The Act creates a system of warnings, youth justice conferences and youth diversion programs, as well as the Youth Justice Court. Under the Act, court proceedings are a last resort. Also, the Act says that young people should only be kept in police custody for a crime as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. This means in all but the most serious cases, police shouldn’t arrest you or force you to go to court.

The law emphasises the importance of the involvement of parents and guardians, offenders accepting responsibility for their actions and community-based solutions.

Who is covered by the youth justice scheme?

The Act covers children and young people under 18 years of age at the time of committing a crime.  

You and your parents have to agree to get a written warning, go to a conference or do another diversion. If they don’t agree, then the police can charge you and you will go to Court.

You are not covered by the Act if you’ve already done a Youth Justice Conference or another diversion program, or if you have lots of previous convictions and have been given the opportunity to use diversion in the past and you keep breaking the law.

What crimes are covered by the youth justice scheme?

Not all crimes are covered by the Act. Some examples of crimes covered by the Act include:

  • Offensive language or behaviour in public
  • Damaging property and public features such as fountains and street lamps
  • Possessing stolen goods
  • Breaking into houses and building
  • Intentionally making loud noises to annoy others
  • Challenging others to a fight

Crimes not covered by the Act include:

  • Crimes where you have received a fine/infringement notice
  • Certain driving crimes (e.g. driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, driving without a licence, dangerous driving, speeding)
  • Very serious crimes, for example involving drugs or violence.

These offences will be dealt with through regular legal processes, including going to court.  See our pages on “Penalties given by the Children’s Court” for more information about this.

If you’re under 25 and you’ve been accused of a crime and want to know what could happen, please contact us here and we can give you free advice and information. Everything you tell us will be kept confidential.


What crimes can I get a warning for?  

You can be given a verbal warning for very minor crimes, such as offensive conduct and offensive language (swearing).

There are some crimes where you can’t get a verbal warning because they are more serious. These include:

  • Crimes for which you get an infringement notice, like parking offences or littering;
  • Some driving crimes, like driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or dangerous driving; and
  • Very serious crimes like crimes involving violence or drug crimes.

A verbal warning is usually given for first-time crimes, but you can receive verbal warnings for crimes after the first one if the police officer feels it is appropriate.  

You can also be given a written warning. You are more likely to get a written warning if you have already been given verbal warnings in the past.    

How are warnings given?

The warning may be given at any place or time. The police officer who gives the warning must explain the warning and its consequences in a way that you can understand.

The police officer will try to tell your parent or guardian about the verbal warning, and ask them to agree to you being given the warning. However, you can still be given a verbal warning for a minor crime if the police can’t talk to your parent or guardian or if your parent or guardian doesn’t agree with the warning.

If you or your parent or guardian doesn’t agree to you being given a verbal warning – for example, if you do not admit that you committed the crime – then the police officer might decide to charge you with a crime and have the matter dealt with in court.

For written warnings, the police can only give you this while your parents are with you and if they agree.

What happens if I receive a warning?

If you receive a warning, the police can’t take any other action against you. The police also can’t attach any conditions to your warning.

How do warnings affect my criminal record?

If a warning is given to you, the police officer usually records it. This means that if you commit any future crimes, the police will be able to see that you have already received a verbal warning, and it will be less likely that you will receive another one.

However, this record does not form a part of your criminal history. If you apply for a job and they ask you whether you have a criminal history, you do not need to disclose this.

If you have to go to court for any future crimes, the police can tell the court about any verbal warnings that you have received, to show that you have been involved with the police in the past. It is up to the court to decide what to do with this information and how important the court thinks it is.

If you’re 18 or under and you’ve been accused of a crime and want to know what could happen, please contact us here and we can give you free advice and information. Everything you tell us will be kept confidential.

Youth Justice Conferences

Youth justice conferences are more serious than warnings, but less serious than court proceedings. They involves a meeting and discussion between yourself and others.

Youth Justice Conference are for repeated minor crimes, or more serious crimes such as stealing from a shop, smashing a car window, or breaking into a house. 

There are two types of Youth Justice Conferences:

    1. A family conference or formal caution involves talking about the offence you have committed with your family, and other people who are important in your life and can help you stay out of trouble, e.g., a teacher or someone you respect. There are usually conditions attached to formal cautions, such as a curfew, paying back money for the damage you caused, or attending a program to help you stay out of trouble.
    2. A victim offender conference involves talking about the crime with your family and the victim, listening to how your crime has affected the victim and discussing ways to take responsibility for your actions. The people attending the conference agree on a suitable outcome for your crime which may include a genuine apology to the victim, paying compensation to the victim, or fixing any damage you caused.

If you’re 18 or under and you’ve been accused of a crime and want to know what could happen, including about Youth Justice Conferences, please contact us here and we can give you free advice and information. Everything you tell us will be kept confidential.

Penalties in the Children’s Court

Do I have to go to court?

Generally, you may not have to go to court if you are in trouble for the first time and it is for something less serious. Instead of requiring you to go to court, the police may choose to give you a verbal warning or written warning, or arrange for you to take part in a Youth Justice Conference or a diversion program (see above).

On the other hand, you will probably have to go to court if you are in trouble for things that are more serious such as violent crimes. You will also probably have to go to court if you have been in trouble with the police before.

Either way, always keep in mind that your punishment will fit the crime – you’re not going to be sent to jail for getting a parking ticket!

What are the penalties of the Youth Justice Court?

If you are under 18 years old and have been found guilty of something by the Youth Justice Court, you should know about all the different types of penalties (sometimes called ‘sentences’) you could be facing.

Remember that when choosing a penalty, the Court will usually consider the seriousness of your actions and any previous criminal record you have. They will also take into account things like your age, level of maturity, family relationship and where you live, work or go to school.

Below is an overview of the Youth Justice Court’s penalties. The Court might choose one penalty or a combination of many.


If the Court finds you guilty of doing something, the Court might decide to dismiss your matter. This means the Court has decided to let you off with no punishment and no conviction. This usually only happens when you’re in trouble for doing something less serious, such as littering.


If the Court finds you guilty of doing something, the Court might decide to discharge you. Although this means you will not be penalised for your actions, the Court may decide to record a conviction against you.


The Court may order an adjournment for a certain period of time, usually up to a maximum of 12 months. This means that the Court has decided to give you some more time before telling you what your penalty is. An adjournment may be ordered for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, if you haven’t done anything too serious, the Court might want to give you a chance to show that you can stay out of trouble. If, when the adjournment is over and you have to go back to Court to be sentenced, you can show that you have not broken the law again; the Court might discharge you, without penalty.

On other occasions, the Court will order an adjournment so that they can obtain a pre-sentence report to take into account before they sentence you. Other times they will grant an adjournment subject to bail conditions or because they would like you to attend a program such as a drug or alcohol program before they sentence you.

Good behaviour order

The Court may decide a good behaviour order is most appropriate. The order is basically a promise from you to be of good behaviour for a certain period of time, sometimes up to 2 years. You will be required to pay a monetary amount to the Court as a means of assuring it that you will stay out of trouble with the police (a ‘security’). You might also have to agree to other conditions, such as being home every night by 7pm (curfew) or going to school.

All the conditions of the order will be written out on a piece of paper, which you will have to sign and agree to. If, at the end of the term of your order, you have met all the conditions and the Court is happy with you, the Court is likely to have considered your matter dealt with. But if you don’t follow all of the conditions or are brought back before the Court for getting in trouble, the Court may find that you have broken your promise and are in breach of the order. You then face losing any amount of money you paid as security, and the Court might decide to cancel your order and re-sentence you to a more a serious punishment.


The Court may choose to issue you with a fine, usually payable within 28 days. The maximum amount they can make you pay will depend on what you’ve done but can be anything from $100 to $1000. Before making you pay a fine, the Court will usually take into account things like whether you have a job or can afford to pay the fine, but the Court is not required to do so. Keep in mind that if you are not working and have no source of income, it is unlikely that the Court will order you to pay a fine. The idea is that it is you, not your parents or carer, who is being punished!

Community work order

The Court may order you to do unpaid community services work, usually with a charity or community organisation. Before the Court makes this order, they will have to receive a report from your probation officer so that the Court can satisfy itself that you are a suitable person for community work, and that there is work available.

The maximum number of hours of community service the Court can assign you to do is 480.

If you don’t do the work as specified in the order (after you have agreed to do it), it is likely that you will have to go back to Court where they may increase the number of hours you have to do, or may cancel the order and sentence you to a more serious penalty.

Suspended detention order

Sometimes the Court will sentence you to a ‘suspended’ detention order. This means that although the Court has ordered you to spend time in a detention centre, the Court has delayed this from happening in order to allow you to demonstrate to the Court that you are capable of good behaviour and staying out of trouble. You will be able to live within the community and not have to live in detention, but you will probably have to follow strict special conditions such as regularly reporting to your youth justice worker, going to school, not drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs, being home every night by a certain time (curfew), or attending medical, psychological or drug counselling.

The Court may also require you to follow an ‘alternative detention order’. This means you will have to sign a document stating that you will follow certain conditions and will reside at a place decided by the Court.

If you break any conditions, break your alternative detention order or are caught doing something else by the police, the Court is going to be very unimpressed with you and might decide to send you to detention for the entire time originally set down.

Detention or imprisonment order

If the Court decides that you’ve done something so serious that none of the other penalties should apply, the Court can imprison you in a detention place, such as a youth justice centre, for a maximum period of up to 2 years. The Court will only make an imprisonment order as a last resort and if none of the other sentencing options are harsh enough. Most young people who are given this sentence have already had to follow orders before, such as a good behaviour or community work order.

The Court may place you in detention on either a full-time basis, meaning you will be imprisoned for a set and continued period of time, or on a part-time basis. If it’s part time, you’re under ‘periodic detention’. This means that you will be locked up for a few days a week. While in detention, you may be required to attend school, play sports and attend programs to address any issues you may have with alcohol, drugs, or anger management.


At any stage of the Court proceedings (before the court finds you guilty), the Court can stop the proceedings and refer you to be re-assessed for inclusion in a diversion program or Youth Justice Conference with the consent of the police and yourself.

Criminal records after going to court

If you’re under 15 and the court finds you guilty of a crime and doesn’t record a conviction, no other court is allowed to hear about that finding if it later comes up when you’re an adult if you’ve been charged with a crime.

If you’re over 15 when you commit the crime and want to know if you have to disclose your crimes to an employer, please contact us here and we can give you advice.

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