Criminal Law

Youth Justice and Juvenile Crime

Understanding youth justice and juvenile crime

In Australia, children are not held criminally responsible for their actions until they have reached 10 years of age. It is understood that children under 10 are not yet fully developed an understanding of right from wrong, thus they cannot be held accountable for their actions.

The Australian legal system recognises that while children between the ages of 10 and 17 years of age still remain immature and inexperienced, they are of an age where they hold a degree of responsibility. Therefore, they have their own juvenile justice system, separate from adults. Any child between these ages who have been charged for criminal activity are dealt with under the youth justice system and the Children’s Courts. Up until recently, children aged 17 years of age were considered to be adult offenders in Queensland; however, this was later amended in 2017, and they are now recognised as juveniles.

Juvenile justice system vs adult justice system

There are quite a few differences with how a juvenile is dealt with in court compared to how adults are, including:

  • A parent or guardian is present in court;
  • The penalties are typically much lighter for a juvenile offender;
  • The maximum sentences are considerably shorter;
  • Juveniles are sentenced to detention as opposed to imprisonment; and
  • Juveniles are supervised by Youth Justice Services instead of Corrective Services.

Types of penalties offending juveniles might face

When dealing with offending juveniles either in court or as a person of authority (such as police), the approach varies with options for offences scaled back considerably to what an adult court would enforce. These include:

  • If the offence is minor, a police officer can take no action against the juvenile;
  • If the offence is minor, a police officer can offer a formal verbal and written caution of the offence if the juvenile admits guilt and agrees to have a guardian or parent present;
  • If the offence is considered too serious for a caution, the police officer can make a referral of the child to the restorative justice process. This process required the child to consent to this and the result is that the child needs to apologise and make amend for their offence;
  • If the child is involved in a drug offence and admits guilt, the police can refer the offending juvenile offender to a drug diversion program;
  • If the offence is progresses to Court or the child continues to offend, the court can give a reprimand;
  • If the child is 13 years or older, they can be placed on a community service order for a minimum of 20 hours;
  • A fine can be issued if the court believes the child can personally pay the fine with their own money. This must not be paid by the parent or guardian;
  • The child could be placed on a probation order, undertaking programs and counselling, while under close supervision by the Youth Justice Services; and
  • If the offence is serious, as a last resort, the juvenile can also be sentenced to a period of detention.

Juvenile crime is difficult and can be quite confronting. Children make mistakes, just as adults do. The way they are penalised for these mistakes can greatly influence them later in life, emotionally, socially and personally.

Get in touch with one of our qualified lawyers who deal with juvenile crime and justice to assist you and your child through these challenges.

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