The youth justice system

Navigate this page

What is the youth justice system?

The Youth Justice Act 1997 (‘the YJA) explains the alternatives to going to court for young people who commit certain crimes. The YJA covers young people aged between 10 and 17 years old. Instead of going to court, the YJA establishes a ssytem of informal cautions, formal cautions and community conferences.

On the other hand, you will probably have to go to court if you are in trouble for having committed a more serious crime. You will also probably have to go to court if you have committed a crime before.

Click on the links to your or below right to find out more information on this topic. Also check out our page on criminal law.

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.

Informal Cautions

Generally, you may not have to go to court if you are in trouble for the first time and it is for something minor. Instead, the police may give you an informal caution if they think it is appropriate.

In order to receive an informal caution, you have to admit that you did the crime. After being issued with an informal caution, no further action can be taken by police about that offence.   

The informal caution you receive will not go on your record.

Formal Cautions

Alternatively, the police may issue you with a formal caution if they think this is more appropriate than an informal caution.

How are cautions given?

Before giving you a formal caution, the police officer must explain to you:

  • the nature of the offence and how they think it has occurred;
  • that you are allowed to have a lawyer if you want; and
  • that you are allowed to have the offence dealt with by a court instead if you want.

Also, for a formal caution to be issued to you, you have to first agree to be given one. If it is practical to, the police must make sure you agree to this in front of a parent or another responsible adult.

As part of the formal caution, the police may also require you to promise to do one or more of the following:

  • pay for loss or damage to any property because of the offence;
  • promise to pay for any injury suffered because of the offence;
  • do community service of no more than 35 hours;
  • make an apology to the victim of the offence; and
  • anything else that is appropriate in the circumstances.

What happens after I receive a caution?

After being issued with an informal caution, no further action can be taken by police about that offence. You receive a caution instead of having any other criminal penalty.  

How do formal cautions affect my criminal record?

If the police give you a caution, the police must record it. If you do end up going to court for an offence under the Youth Justice Act, a formal caution can be used as evidence of the offence you were cautioned for.   Generally the police will not release this information on a record check. The only time they will release this information is if you are applying for a job to work with vulnerable people like children, or applying to be a doctor, teacher, judge or someone similar.  If you’re worried about something showing up on your record, please contact us here and we can give you some information.   

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.

Community Conferences

When will I have to go to a community conference and what is it all about?

The police also have the power to ask you to go to a ‘Community Conference’. However, before doing so, the police must explain to you:

  • the nature of the crime and how they think it has occurred;
  • that you are allowed to have a lawyer if you want; and
  • that you are allowed to have the offence dealt with by a court instead if you want.

Also, before requiring you to attend a Conference, the police have to get you to agree to one and to attend. The police must also make sure a parent is there with you, if practical, when you agree to a Conference.

The Conference

The Conference will generally include a facilitator, yourself, the police officer and anyone else the facilitator may have invited e.g. the victim. If you attend a Conference, you are allowed to bring a support person of your choice with you.

It is a meeting where it is encouraged for everyone attending to agree on any orders to be made on you. This means that for any decisions of an order, you, the police and the victim (if they attend) must all agree on it.

The decision will be made in writing and signed by everyone who agrees with it.

What are the possible orders of a Conference?

A Conference may result in one or more of the following orders:

  • to issue you with a caution;
  • require you to pay the cost for any injury suffered by the victim or property damaged;
  • require you to fix a problem that you have caused;
  • require you to do up to 70 hours of community service (if you are over 13);
  • require you to promise to apologise to the victim; and
  • require you to do anything else that is appropriate in the circumstances.

How does a Conference affect a child’s record?

If you attend a Conference and perform all the promises that you made at it, you cannot be charged for the same offence in court.

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.

What matters are heard by the Children’s Court?

If you are under 18, and you have committed a crime that is less serious, you will most likely be sent to the Children’s Court.

The Children’s Court deals with the following types of matters:

  • any crime that has allegedly been committed by a person under the age of 18; and
  • applications for restraining orders.

If you have committed a very serious crime, such as murder, the case may be heard in the Supreme Court. Also, if you are over 15 years old, you can choose to have the case heard in a Court with a jury.

If you have been charged with a crime and have been asked to attend Court, we strongly suggest that you seek legal advice to discuss your options. For further information about appropriate legal advice, please contact us here.

What are the penalties of the Children’s Court?

If you are under 18 years old and have been found guilty of a crime by the Children’s 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 Children’s Court penalties. The Court might choose one penalty or a combination of many.

Dismissal

If the Court finds you guilty of a crime, the Court might decide to dismiss your matter. This means that you will have no punishment, and the matter will not show up on your criminal record. This usually only happens when you’re in trouble for doing something less serious, such as littering. There are three ways the Court can dismiss you.

  1. The Court may dismiss your matter without a penalty.
  2. The Court may dismiss your matter, without a penalty, but will also talk to you about the seriousness of your crime.
  3. The Court may dismiss your matter, but will require you to be on ‘good behaviour’ for a maximum period of 6 months.

If you give are on good behaviour, you have restrictions on the things you can and can’t do, such as committing another crime, or having a curfew.

Release and adjournment order

The Court may make a release and adjournment order for up to 12 months. This means that the Court has decided to give you some more time before telling you what your penalty is. The Court will sometimes do this if they are thinking of imposing a serious penalty, but want to give you a chance to show that you can stay out of trouble. Usually the Court will order an adjournment with conditions, such as reporting to police regularly or attending a drug and alcohol program. If you break these conditions, the Court can decide to change the conditions of the order, or give you another, harsher, punishment.

If, when the adjournment is over, and you go back to the Court to be sentenced, you can show the Court that you followed all the conditions and stayed out of trouble, the Court may give you a less serious punishment.

Compensation Levy

A compensation levy (which is a financial penalty) is charged to a person who is convicted of an serious offence.  This is not related to the offence itself but rather for the fact that you have been convicted in a court.

However, you will not need to pay the levy if:

  • you are convicted in the Children’s Court; or
  • convicted by the Supreme Court but you were under 18 when you committed the offence.

The levy is usually $20 to $50 but can sometimes be higher.

Fine

If you are under the age of 17, the Court can order you to pay a fine up to a maximum of $1400. If you are 17 years old or over, the Court can order you to pay a larger amount. How much you will have to pay depends on things like your age, what you have done, and whether you have a job or can afford to pay the fine.

Probation order

If the Court finds you guilty of committing a crime, the Court might make you follow a probation order.

This means that you have to be on good behaviour and not commit any crimes during the time of the order. You will also be required to have visits with a youth justice worker, who will be responsible for supervising your order and will help you work through any problems you are having. You have to notify this worker of any changes to your employment, school, or living arrangements and any travel outside of Victoria.   

The Court might also make you follow ‘special conditions’, such as giving you a curfew, going to school or attending medical, psychological or drug counselling.

The probation order is usually less than 12 months long; however, if you have committed a serious crime, it may be 2 years.

If, at the end of your probation order, you have followed all of the orders, you will have served your sentence. But if you don’t follow all of the conditions of the order, you might be brought back to Court and sentenced again. The Court may then make you follow more conditions or even cancel the order and sentence you to a more serious punishment.

Community service order

If you are over 13 years old, and you agree, the Court may order you to do community service work. Before the Court makes this order, they will have to receive a pre-sentence report which states that you are a suitable person for community work, and that there is work available.

If you between 13-15 years old, the maximum number of hours of community service the Court can assign you to do is 70. If you are over 16 years old, the maximum is 210 hours.

If you don’t do the work as specified in the order, 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 so you can show the Court that you are capable of good behaviour and staying out of trouble.

You will be able to live at home, but will have to follow strict conditions such as regularly reporting to your youth justice worker, going to school, not drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs, having a curfew, or attending medical, psychological or drug counselling. If you break any of these conditions or commit another crime, the Court might decide to send you to detention for the entire time originally set down.

Detention order

As a last resort, if the Court decides that the crime you have committed is so serious that none of the other penalties are suitable, the Court can imprison you in a detention place, such as a youth justice centre, for up to 2 years.

This generally only happens if you have failed to follow previous orders, or have committed crimes in the past.

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.

Click on the links to your right to find out more information on this topic. Also see our page on criminal law

If you’re 18 and 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.

Got a question you
 can’t get answered?

If you have a problem or a question, you can send it to us today and we can provide you with free advice, information and referrals to help solve your problem. Just click on the button below.

Get help now

Select Your State or Territory

The law is different in each state and territory. Please select your state or territory to view legal information that applies to you.