The youth justice system

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What is the youth justice system?

In Victoria  there is a special system to deal with young people who have committed crimes.  The system is a mix of Victoria Police programs and the law

Victoria Police programs guide the use of warnings and cautions. Some programs include the “pre-court Victoria Police cautioning program,” and the Drug Diversion Caution Program.

The main law is called the the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (CYFA). The CYFA provides alternatives to traditional court processes like the youth group justice conference.

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.

Cautions and other diversionary options

What offences can I get a formal caution for?

You can only get a caution if you admit that you did the crime.

There are a number of different factors police will take into account when deciding whether to give you a caution or a more serious ‘enforcement action.’ These are set out in the Victoria Police Manual and include:

  • How serious the crime was;
  • Your circumstances and the victim’s circumstances;
  • How much damage or injury you caused;
  • Whether a caution would deter you, or others, from doing the crime again;
  • The number of people you’ve hurt or affected; and
  • If you have a previous record of getting cautions.

If the offence is shoplifting, it needs to be less than $100 of value and it must not involve stealing from more than one shop.

If the offence relates to drugs, the offender must give consent for the caution to be issued.

If the offence relates to sexual offences, a caution will only be issued in exceptional circumstances.

For cautions given to children between 10 and 18 years old, a parent or guardian must consent to and be present when the caution is issued.

How are cautions given?

You would have been given a written document and, in most circumstances, your parents would have been told. This will generally be done at the police station after an interview.

What happens after I receive a caution?

Cautions are recorded in a police document called a Brief Register and are also kept in the police station’s file. Only the police can see this and they will generally use it only if you get in trouble again.

If you already have a caution, it is unlikely that you will receive another one in future and you may have to go to court.

How do formal cautions affect my criminal record?

A police caution does not get wiped when you turn 18. It will remain in police files. BUT, even though a police caution is kept on file, police cautions do NOT give you a criminal record. This means no one other than the police can find out that you have been given a police caution, and it will NOT come up in a criminal background check.

The caution will generally not affect your ability to get a job in the future. As we said, the formal caution will not come up in a criminal background check. So your potential employer will not find out that you received a police caution. You do not need to disclose the caution to a future employer.

The main way that a police caution affects you is that it is less likely that the police will be lenient next time you do something wrong, especially if you do something similar.

If you’re worried about a criminal record or criminal history for something you did when you were 18 or under, please contact us here and we can give you some advice.

Youth Justice Group Conference

What is the aim of the conference?

The purpose of a conference is for the people involved in an offence (including the offender and the victim) to make decisions and agree on an outcome plan about how the offender can make up for their offence. For example, the people at the conference might:

  • agree that the offender will do community service,
  • attend a rehabilitation program or
  • write an apology to the victim.

Group conferencing is also intended to help the offender accept responsibility for their offence, to help keep young people away from further involvement in the criminal justice system, and to reintegrate young people into the community following an offence. It is a voluntary scheme in which the young person has a say in whether to choose group conferencing as one alternative to put to the court.

Who is eligible for a group conference?

Referral to group conferencing by the Children’s Court is available for young people (from age 10 up until the age of 17) who have:

  • pleaded guilty or been found guilty of offences that do not include homicide, manslaughter or sex offences;
  • committed offences serious enough to warrant a probation or youth supervision order to be considered by the court;
  • agreed to participate; and
  • been assessed as suitable to participate in a Group Conference by the Department of Human Services.

In deciding whether a young person is suitable to participate in a Group Conference, the Department of Human Services will consider the following:

  • their acceptance of their role in the offence, their level of remorse, and their awareness of, and feeling towards, the victim;
  • safety issues and/or special needs of the young person including intellectual ability, drug or alcohol use and cultural values; and
  • how they communicate with others and how this might impact on their participation in the group conference.

How does the court decide that I need to attend a conference?

If the Children’s Court is considering imposing a sentence of probation or a youth supervision order, the Court may defer sentencing and order that the young person participate in a youth justice group conference. The Court may defer sentencing for a period not exceeding 4 months.

How does a group conference affect my sentence?

When sentencing the offender, the Court will take into account the contents of the outcome plan and the extent to which the offender has complied with the plan.  A successful conference and compliance with the outcome plan can result in diversion of the young person from a Supervisory Court Order.

Who can attend a group conference?

A group conference must be attended by:

  • the young person who has committed the offence;
  • their legal representative;
  • the police informant (who brought the charges); and
  • the conference convenor (who runs the conference).

In addition, a group conference may be attended by:

  • the young person’s family;
  • persons of significance to the young person;
  • the victim and/or their representative;
  • any other person permitted to attend by the Convenor (this could include community members and family and/or support persons of the victim where appropriate).

What happens at the group conference?

The conference provides all people involved, in particular the young person who committed the offence and the victim, the chance to tell their story and talk about how the offence has affected them. At the end of this discussion, the people involved suggest how the young person might repair the harm caused to the victim, and decide on an outcome plan.

Recommendations from the conference could include that the offender participate in education, employment or counselling programs or take steps to repair the damage done by the offence (e.g. by making an apology to the victim, paying for the damage or making a donation).

What can result from a conference?

Upon conclusion of the conference, the Convenor will prepare a report for the Court including the outcome plan. They will discuss the report with the young person and their lawyer. If the Court accepts the outcome plan, the convenor will contact the young person and a community representative to help the young person implement the outcome plan. It is the responsibility of the young person and their support group to implement the outcome plan.

In determining a sentence, the Court will take into account:

  • the desirability of letting the young person live at home and attend school or work;
  • the suitability of the sentence; and
  • the need to protect the community.

If the young person participated in the conference and agreed to the group conference plan, the Court must impose a sentence less severe than it would have imposed had they not participated in a group conference.

What happens if I fail to participate in a group conference?

If the young person fails to attend the conference without reasonable excuse, the Convenor will report their lack of participation to the Court in writing. This will be taken into account upon sentencing. However, the Court cannot impose a sentence that is more severe than it would have imposed had sentencing not been deferred.

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 crimes does the Children’s Court deal with?

The Children’s Court can deal with all crimes except crimes where someone has died. This includes:

  • murder,
  • manslaughter,
  • killing a child,
  • defensive homicide,
  • arson,
  • driving causing death and
  • attempted murder.

Charges in the Children’s Court will be dealt with summarily (that means there is no jury and it is just the magistrate who decides the case).

However, if it is a more serious offence, a young person can choose for the case to be heard by a judge and jury. In exceptional cases, the Magistrate can decide that the case should be finally decided by a judge and jury. It is important that a young person get legal advice before making any decisions about their case.  Please contact us here if you would like to find out who you can talk to near where you live. You can also call Victoria Legal Aid on 1300 792 387.

For more information, please see our page on Criminal Law.

What penalties can the Children’s Court give?

Most criminal matters against a young person are dealt with in the Children’s Court. There are a range of actions the Court can take which may or may not record a conviction on a young person’s criminal record. Which action the Court takes will depend on:

  • the offence,
  • the suitability of the sentence to the young person,
  • the need to protect the community,
  • and other considerations.

Dismissal or dismissal with good behaviour orders or undertaking

This means that the court may not record a conviction and no punishment is given.

The charge may be dismissed upon the young person giving an undertaking or accountable undertaking for up to six months, or in exceptional circumstances 12 months, to do or not to do the acts specified in the undertaking.

A good behaviour bond that does not involve a conviction may require the young person to sign a document in which they promise not to commit any further offences for a period of time. This can be up to one year if they are less than 15 years of age, or up to 18 months if they are 15 years or over and the circumstances are exceptional.


The Court may impose a fine, subject to the young person’s financial situation. A conviction may also be recorded on their criminal record. If the young person is under 15, a fine cannot be more than $155.46  for one crime $310.92 for more than one crime. If they are 15 or over, a fine cannot be more than $777.30 for one crime  or more than $1554.60 for more than one offence.


The young person may be placed on probation for up to 12 months or, if the offence is serious, up to 18 months.  A conviction may also be recorded on their criminal record. Probation is usually given to young people who have offended once or twice before. A probation order gives the young person the opportunity to work through the things that have caused them to get into trouble. A young person on probation must:

  • report as directed. Usually this is once a week, but it could be more often as directed by the Court;
  • not offend while on probation;
  • let the probation officer know if you change address; and
  • get written permission from the probation officer before leaving Victoria.

Youth Supervision order

Young people aged between 10 and 17 who have offended and appeared in court before and who have been found guilty of a serious offence, or numerous offences, may be placed on a youth supervision order. A conviction may also be recorded on their criminal record. The time limits are the same as those for probation, but a youth supervision order involves more intensive supervision and may include community work.  A young person on a youth supervision order must:

  • report as directed;
  • not re-offend while on a YSO;
  • let the Supervisor know if they change address;
  • attend the programs arranged for them and do community service if required;
  • comply with any special conditions the Court imposed;
  • get written permission before leaving Victoria.

Youth Attendance Order

A young person who is over 15 but under 19 and has been found guilty of a serious offence or has appeared in court many times before could be placed on a youth attendance order (‘YAO’) for up to a year. This can only be imposed if the Court is otherwise considering a period of detention in a youth justice centre. It is a direct alternative to being locked up. If a young person is placed on a YAO, the order has to finish by the time they turn 21. A young person on a youth attendance order must:

  • report as directed;
  • not offend while on a YAO;
  • let their supervisor know if they change your address;
  • attend the education or other program activities organised for them;
  • complete up to four hours per week of community work as directed;
  • ask permission from their supervisor before leaving Victoria.

A young person placed on a youth attendance order will spend up to ten hours a week attending the YAO program.

Youth Residential Centre order

A young person under 15 who has been found guilty of very serious offences or who has appeared in court many times may be sentenced to detention in a youth residential centre (‘YRC’). The Court must be satisfied that the circumstances and nature of the offence(s) are serious and that no other sentence is appropriate. Most young people who get a YRC sentence will have had a number of community-based orders before, which will usually include probation and youth supervision orders.  A young person in a youth residential centre may still be allowed to do the following:

  • Attend school;
  • Attend programs to address issues like drug and alcohol use, or anger management, which may have contributed to their offending;
  • Take part in sporting activities; and
  • Participate in unit activities.

Youth Justice Centre order

Young people aged between 15 and 20 years who have been found guilty of very serious offences or who have appeared in court many times before, can receive a youth justice centre order (YJC’).. The court may impose a YJC order after it has received a pre-sentence report, and where it believes that there are reasonable prospects for the rehabilitation of the defendant. Most young people who get a YJC sentence will have had a number of community-based orders before, for example, probation, youth supervision orders and youth attendance orders. A young person in a youth justice centre may participate in activities and programs which include:

  • Programs to help them deal with their offending behaviour, such as drug and alcohol counselling or anger management counselling;
  • TAFE courses;
  • Sports activities;
  • YMCA programs;
  • Unit outings;
  • Work release.

Court-based diversion

Even after a young person is brought before the Court, the Court can decide that the case is more appropriate for diversion (ie. to be dealt with away from the formal court system).

There is no legislated right of access to diversionary programs for young offenders in Victoria. However, there are three programs available to the Court if it considers the case appropriate for one of these diversionary schemes.


The ROPES is a special program running in Melbourne and some other courts in Victoria for those people under 17 who have committed minor offences and who don’t have any criminal history.    If you complete the program, you won’t have to have the case heard in court and you won’t have any convictions or a finding of guilty recorded against your name.  

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.

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