The youth justice system

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What is the youth justice system?

Under the law Western Australia, young people under the age of 18 are dealt with using a special youth justice system to make sure that they are treated fairly.

This system emphasises the importance of parents and guardians being involved in the process, the young offender accepting responsibility for their actions, and the importance of considering the impact of a young offender’s crime on the community. The system also seeks to strengthen the relationship between the young offender and their family.

Going to court is a last resort. If you are in trouble for having committed a more serious crime, or you have already committed a crime before, you will probably have to go to court.

This fact sheet explains: which offences are covered under the youth justice scheme; receiving cautions; Juvenile Justice Teams; and what happens when you go to court.

What offences are covered by the youth justice system?

The special laws that cover how to treat a young offender do not cover certain crimes.  Some examples of offences which ARE covered include:

  • Driving without displaying P plates,
  • Offensive language,
  • Causing damage to a fountain at a park,
  • Drinking alcohol with friends at a park,
  • Stealing cattle from a farm,
  • Breaking and entering into a house and stealing.

Offences for which you will NOT be given a caution or referred to a juvenile justice team include:

  • Serious driving offences (e.g. drink driving, reckless driving, driving without a license),
  • Sexual offences,
  • If someone has died as a result of the offence,
  • Most drug offences, except for possession of very small amounts.

These offences will not be dealt with using the youth justice scheme. For more information about these offences, see our web page on criminal law.

If you are worried about a crime that you may have committed, just remember that the penalty normally matches the crime – only the more serious crimes will face jail time or high fines, i.e. you’re not going to be sentenced to jail time for a parking fine.

Cautions

A caution is an oral or written notice from a police officer.

A caution does not form part of a person’s criminal history, but the police will keep a copy of it and it might be mentioned in court if you are charged with another crime. A person who has received a caution will not have to tell any future employers that they received a caution.

The police officer must give the young person a caution certificate. The caution certificate must include:

  • That the caution was given to the young person
  • The young person’s name
  • A description of the offence
  • The police officer’s name and rank
  • Where the caution was given
  • The names of all the people present when the caution was given
  • The nature and effect of the caution
  • A description of anything seized by the police officer in relation to the offence.

A police officer may give a caution to a young person if they have committed or are alleged to have committed a minor crime covered by the Act. A police officer may decide not to issue a caution if they think it is not in the interest of justice to do so.

When a police officer is deciding whether or not to give a caution, any past offences and the seriousness of the offence will be taken into consideration. A young person can still receive a caution if they have received a caution before.

If a young person receives a caution, no further action can be taken against them in relation to that offence. The caution is given instead of any other criminal penalty.

If the police have seized any goods which are not illegal, they must make the goods available to be collected by an appropriate person (e.g. the young person or their parent) once 48 hours have passed since the caution was issued.

Juvenile Justice Teams (JJTs)

Sometimes police officers or the children’s court will refer a young person who has committed an offence to a Juvenile Justice Team (JJT). This is more serious than a caution but less serious than a court proceeding. Generally, first time offenders are referred to a JJT rather than be required to go to court.

JJTs specify terms for the young person to comply with (also known as an ‘action plan’). The young offender will be present in front of the JJT when the action plans are made. The action plan must be agreed to by all participants of the conference before it is enforceable. Participants include the JJT Coordinator (who runs the conference), the young offender and responsible adult accompanying the offender, a police officer and sometimes the victim. If the young person is Aboriginal, then a member of the Aboriginal community may also be invited to attend the meeting. Lawyers are not allowed to be present.

The action plan may include a formal apology, agreeing to be assessed for counselling, a voluntary work task, or paying a sum of money. The type of punishment will take into account the young person’s age and maturity, and any conditions that have been set by their family.

Offenders referred to a JJT will not have their offence put on their criminal record if they comply with the action plan. If the young person fails to complete the action plan, however, the matter will be referred back to the police or the court.

These types of punishments are intended to promote the development of the young offender within their family and to help the offender accept responsibility for their offences. It seeks to deal with the reasons why a young person has committed an offence in order to prevent them from offending in future.

A young person who has committed an offence can be referred to a JJT by the Court or prosecutor if:

  1. The offence is covered by the youth justice scheme;
  2. The prosecution or the court decides that it is appropriate;
  3. The young person admits the offence; and
  4. The young person, an adult responsible for the young person (e.g. a parent or guardian), and the victim all consent to having a conference. The responsible adult must also agree to attend and participate in the conference.

The Children’s Court

If you are under 18, and you have committed a crime that is too serious for a caution or a Juvenile Justice Team, you will most likely be sent to the Children’s Court.

However, if the crime is very serious, for example murder or a major drug offence, you can choose to have your case heard in the District or Supreme 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.

Penalties in the Children’s Court

If you are under 18 years old and have been found guilty of a crime by the Children’s Court, there are many different types of penalties (or sentences) you could be facing.

When choosing a penalty, the Court must consider which option will best promote your rehabilitation and help you get back on track, so that you won’t commit another crime. They will usually consider the seriousness of your actions and any previous criminal record you have. They will also take into account your age, level of maturity and cultural background.

Below is an overview of penalties in the Children’s Court. Normally the Court will only issue you with one penalty  for a certain crime.

No punishment

The Court may decide to not punish you. This means they will give you a very stern warning and talk about your behaviour.

If you are given this order, it means the  even though you were found guilty of something, the matter will not show up on your criminal record and the Court has decided to let you off. This usually happens when you’re in trouble for doing something less serious, such as littering. Its unlikely that if you keep breaking the law the Court will continue to ignore it and give you no punishment.

There are three types of ‘no punishment’ orders the Court can make:

  1. ‘No punishment and no conditions’. This means you will not be punished, penalised and convicted.
  2. ‘No punishment but conditions’. This means you are agreeing not to do something, i.e. agreeing not to commit another crime. This order means you will not be penalised or convicted, but you will have to keep your promise. Normally this order will only be made if you, or your parents agree with a formal promise to the court (called an undertaking).
  3. ‘No punishment but security or recognisance’. This means that you must not commit any crimes and ‘keep the peace’ for a set amount of time, usually a maximum period of one year. You might also have to agree to other conditions such as:
    1. Having a curfew,
    2. Going to school,

Providing an amount of money to assure the Court that you will keep your promise. This is also called a ‘surety’ or ‘security’ (don’t worry – as long as you keep the terms of your agreement by keeping up your good behaviour and the Court is happy with you, you’ll get your money back and you will be free to go. BUT if you don’t keep up your agreement, the Court might decide not to return the money).

Adjournment

The Court may decide to wait a certain period of time before telling you what your penalty is. This is called an adjournment.

The Court will sometimes do this if they are thinking of imposing a serious penalty, but want to give you another 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.

Sometimes when the adjournment is over and you have to go back to Court to be sentenced, the Court might give you a less serious sentence if you can show you followed all the conditions that were set during the adjournment.

Monetary Orders

Sometimes you will be ordered to pay a certain amount of money in the form of a fine, costs, restitution or compensation. This will depend on what type of crime you committed.

A fine is ordered if you are sentenced for an offence which also has a penalty of imprisonment. Instead of sentencing you to jail time, the Court may order you to pay a fine of up to $2,000.

The Court can also order that you pay money in response to the damage that you have done. This is known as compensation.

Before making you pay anything, the Court will consider things like if you have a job, how much money you have or whether you have a parent or guardian who can afford to pay the monetary amount.

Youth community based order

A youth community based order is quite strict and you will be required to follow a lot of conditions. These might be attendance conditions, community work conditions or supervision conditions, or a combination of all three.

  • Attendance conditions require you to attend school, or rehabilitative courses for up to 6 months.
  • Community work conditions require you to perform unpaid work, usually with a charity or community organisation. They will only be ordered if you are over 12 years old. The Court will order you to do up to 100 hours of work within a 3 month period.
  • Supervision conditions require you to report regularly to your youth justice officer, and follow their instructions, for a period of up to 12 months.

Other conditions you will have to follow as part of a community based order are that you cannot commit another offence and have to inform your supervising officer if you change addresses. If you don’t do the work as specified in the order or break any of the conditions, you will have to go back to Court where they may increase the number of hours of community work you have to do, or sentence you to a more serious penalty.

Youth community based orders are only made if you consent to it and the Court thinks you are suitable for it.

Intensive youth supervision order

An intensive youth supervision order is similar to a youth community based order but it is a much more serious penalty. Most young people who are given this sentence have already had to follow a youth community based order before and the conditions are a lot stricter. In addition, the Court can also require you to report more regularly to your youth justice officer – up to three times per week.

An intensive youth supervision order can be made with or without imprisonment. If you are made to follow this order with imprisonment, it is known as a conditional release order. This means that although you’ve been sentenced to spend time in jail, you have been released into the community on the condition that you follow all the conditions under an intensive youth supervision order. Remember that these conditions are managed intensively and if they are not followed, it may mean a return to jail.

Custodial sentence

As a last resort for serious crimes where no other penalties are suitable, the Court can imprison you in a youth detention centre.

Most young people who are given this sentence have committed crimes before, and received other penalties.

While in detention, you may be required to attend school, play sports or attend programs to address any issues you may have with alcohol, drugs, or anger management.

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