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Young people and the justice system

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There have recently been changes to this area of law. We are working to review the information on this page and how these changes may affect you.  Contact us to get help.

 

Youth Legal Advice Hotline

Youth Legal Advice Hotline—1800 LAQ LAQ (1800 527 527)

Young people can call 1800 LAQ LAQ (1800 527 527) to talk to a lawyer and get free and confidential legal advice about bail, diversionary options, being charged with an offence, talking to police and youth justice issues. Monday to Friday 8am to 9pm and Saturday 7am to 5pm (except for public holidays).

Find out how this service helps young people.

When can I get charged with a criminal offence?

Under 10

If you are under 10 you cannot be held criminally responsible. This means that you cannot be charged with a criminal offence.

Between 10-13

You can be charged with a criminal offence once you turn 10.

But if you are aged between 10-13 you cannot be found guilty unless there is evidence that you knew what you did was wrong when you did it.

It is up to the prosecutor (who might be a police officer or a lawyer) to prove that at the time of the crime you knew or should have known what you were doing was wrong.

Between 14-16

You are expected to know right from wrong (the prosecutor does not have to prove this) and you are dealt with as a child in the juvenile justice system.

17 year olds

In Queensland when you turn 17 you are dealt with as an adult by the criminal justice system.

All other States and Territories deal with 17 year olds in the juvenile justice system.

If you commit an offence before you turn 17, but you aren't sentenced in court until after you turn 17, you will usually still be sentenced as a child.

If you have been charged with an offence you allegedly committed after you turned 17, see Criminal court process.

What happens if I am accused of breaking the law?

If you are under 17 and you are accused of breaking the law, the police have a number of options of how to deal with you.

The police may decide to send you to court to have the matter dealt with or they may offer you a diversionary option.

If you admit that you committed the offence, the police can decide to:

In deciding what to do, the police must consider:

  • the offence you have committed
  • your previous criminal history
  • whether you have had the benefit of a diversionary option in the past.

You should always get legal advice before admitting you are guilty of an offence. Even if you admit that you committed the offence, the police may decide that a diversionary option is not appropriate and send you to court instead.

What does 'taking no action' mean?

The police might take no action for a first or minor offence. It is like an informal cautioning.

What is a caution?

A caution is a formal warning given by a police officer instead of charging you. Once a caution is given the matter is finished. A caution is more likely to be used for minor offences.

The cautioning process must include:

  • you telling the police that you did it (or admitting your guilt) and agreeing to being cautioned
  • a support person being present
  • you getting a notice that you have been cautioned.

If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander the police must consider whether a respected person from your own community can give the caution.

A caution may involve writing an apology to the victim.

In some circumstances cautions can be disclosed in court if you are charged with another offence:

  • If you go before a court and your lawyer thinks that you should have got a caution instead of being brought before a court then they can ask the court to have the charge dismissed. If the court agrees the court may dismiss the charge and administer a caution or direct that a caution be given to you. In deciding what to do the court can consider whether you have received a caution in the past.
  • If you are aged between 10-13 your caution history may also be used by the prosecutor (who might be a police officer or a lawyer) to prove that at the time of the crime you knew or should have known what you were doing was wrong.

How do I get brought before a court?

If you are under 17 and you are charged with an offence, you will be sent to the Children’s Court.

The police do not have to arrest you to charge you with an offence and send you to court.

There are three ways that the police can bring you before the Children’s Court. They may:

  • give you a notice to appear
  • serve you with a complaint and summons, or
  • arrest you and keep you in custody until they can bring you to court.

Notice to appear

A police officer gives you a notice to appear. They must do this discreetly - generally not at your school or place of work. The notice says what you have been charged with and when you have to appear in court.

If you don't appear in court on the day in the notice, a warrant can be issued to arrest you to take you to court.

Complaint and summons

A police officer gives you a complaint and summons. It sets out the offence the police say you did and when you have to appear in court.

If you don't appear in court on the day you are summonsed, a warrant can be issued to arrest you and take you to court, but sometimes a case started this way can be heard without you being there if it is not for a serious offence.

Arrest and detention in custody

A police officer can arrest you and keep you in custody until you can be brought before a court.

A police officer can arrest you if they believe on reasonable grounds that it is necessary to:

  • stop you breaking the law
  • stop you committing another offence
  • stop you from getting rid of evidence
  • stop you from making up evidence, or
  • make sure that you appear at court.

If you are arrested and kept in custody, the police must bring you before a court as soon as reasonably practicable so that you can apply to the court for bail.

Will my parents find out if I am charged with an offence?

Yes. If you are arrested, given a notice to appear or served with a complaint and summons, the police must tell your parents and the Department of Communities.

Which court do I go to?

If you have been charged with a minor offence, you will probably go to the Childrens Court and appear before a Childrens Court magistrate.

If your charge is more serious, the Childrens Court magistrate will send you to a higher court, usually the Children's Court of Queensland. You will appear in front of a judge there. Sometimes, juvenile offenders with serious charges have to go to the district or Supreme court to be dealt with by a judge and jury.

What is a duty lawyer?

If you have to go to court it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer before you go to court. Duty lawyers are usually at court and can give you advice and speak to the court for you. See Duty lawyer.

Will my court proceedings be confidential?

It depends on whether you are a first time offender or a repeat offender and whether the court has made any orders about whether your identity should be made public or not.

A ‘first time offender’ is a child who has not at any time been found guilty of an offence in a youth justice proceeding. A child who has been found guilty of an offence in a youth justice proceeding is a ‘repeat offender’.

If you are a first time offender, the court proceedings are usually closed and it will be prohibited for your identity to be published in relation to the court proceedings. However, in some circumstances the court may make an order to allow your identity to be published where it is in the interests of justice (eg where you have committed a particularly serious violent offence).

If you are a repeat offender, the court proceedings will usually be open and your identity may be published in relation to the court proceedings. However, in some circumstances, the magistrate or judge can close the court to the public and make an order to prohibit the publication of your identity if they decide that it is necessary in the interests of justice.

It is possible to apply for court proceedings to be closed and for the publication of your identity to be prohibited. You should get legal advice.

The court may also be closed to protect the identity of a victim of a sexual offence when they are giving evidence. See Witnesses in criminal cases.

Can I apply for bail?

If you are kept in detention you can apply for bail and a court will decide whether you can be released.

In deciding whether to grant bail, the court must consider:

  • whether you will show up for court
  • whether you will do something else that is against the law
  • whether you will endanger anyone's safety or welfare
  • whether you will try to talk to a witness
  • what crime you are said to have committed, how serious it is and how strong the evidence is against you
  • your personal circumstances including where you are living, whether you are going to school or working, whether you have been in trouble before
  • whether you have been given bail in the past
  • anything else the court thinks is relevant.

The court can decide to put conditions on your bail that make you do certain things. These could include:

  • A residential condition that means you have to live at a certain house (e.g. with your parents or another relative).
  • A reporting condition that means you have to go to the police station and sign in once a week or more.
  • A curfew that says that you will not go out between certain hours during the night.

A conditional bail program may be developed to support you while you are on bail.

If you commit a further offence while you are on bail, you can be charged with a breach of bail offence.

The penalty for this type of breach of bail offence is up to one year’s imprisonment.

You should get legal advice.

Do I need legal advice?

You may need legal advice if you

  • have been asked to take part in a police interview
  • have been charged with an offence
  • are going to a youth justice conference
  • are going to court.

Get legal advice

Legal Aid Queensland may provide legal advice about dealing with the police, courts, and getting charged with a criminal offence.

The following organisations may also be able to give legal advice on your matter.

Youth Advocacy Centre provides a community legal and social welfare service for young people under 17.

Lawmail is a legal advice service for young people that provides free legal advice to people under 18 via email.

YFS Legal provides legal information, advice and representation in criminal law matters to young people aged under 25.

Community legal centres give legal advice on a range of topics. Contact them to see if they can help with your matter.

Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private solicitor for advice or representation.

Who else can help?

These organisations may also be able to help with your matter. They do not provide legal advice.

Kids Helpline provides 24 hour free and confidential telephone, online and email counselling services for children aged 5 to 18 years.

Queensland Police Service investigates complaints about criminal offences.

Queensland Courts give information on Supreme court, Court of Appeal, district court, magistrates court, Coroners court, Childrens court of Queensland, and Land court.

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