Young people and the justice system
Youth Legal Advice Hotline
Young people can call 1800 LAQ LAQ (1800 527 527) to talk to a lawyer and get free and confidential legal advice about:
- the legal rights
- diversionary options
- getting legal representation
- being charged with an offence
- applying for legal aid
- concerns about talking to the police and
- other youth justice issues.
Call the Youth Legal Advice Hotline:
- Monday to Thursday 8am to 9pm or
- Friday 8am to Sunday 5pm (except for Good Friday 10 April, Easter Sunday 12 April and Christmas 25 December) .
Following the commencement of Section 421 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act, unless a police officer is aware the child has arranged for a lawyer to be present during questioning, or has spoken to a lawyer acting for the child, the police officer must:
- Inform the child that a legal aid organisation representative will be notified that the child is in custody for an offence.
- As soon as is reasonably possible (and before questioning starts), notify, or attempt to notify a legal aid organisation representative that the child in in custody for an offence.
When can I be charged with a criminal offence?
Children between 10 and 16
Children under the age of 10 can't be held criminally responsible, and so can't be charged with a criminal offence, but once you've turned 10 you can be charged with a criminal offence.
A child aged 10-13 can't be found guilty, unless there's evidence that they knew what they were doing was wrong at the time the offence was committed. The prosecutor (who might be a police officer or a lawyer) is responsible for proving that you knew, or should have known what you were doing was wrong at the time the offence was committed.
Children and young people between 14 and 16 years are expected to know right from wrong (the prosecutor doesn't have to prove this), and will be dealt with as a child in the juvenile justice system.
With the commencement of the Youth Justice and Other Legislation (Inclusion of a 17-year-old Persons) Amendment Act 2016 (PDF, 331 KB) from 12 February 2018, young offenders aged 17 will now be dealt with in the youth justice system.
This legislation brings Queensland into line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the law in all other Australian jurisdictions.
Together, with these reforms, the Youth Justice (Transitional) Regulation 2018 also commenced on 12 February 2018. The regulation supports the Act, and ensures that 17 year-old persons currently involved in the adult justice system will be carefully transitioned to Youth Justice Care. The regulation will be in effect for 2 years, and allows 17-year old persons in adult prisons, on adult community-based orders, or involved in adult court proceedings to be transferred to the youth justice system.
Find out more about the inclusion of 17-year-old persons in the youth justice system and youth justice reforms.
If you commit an offence before you turn 18, but you aren't sentenced in court until after you turn 18, you will still be sentenced as a child up until the age of 19.
If you've been charged with an offence allegedly committed after you turned 18, see criminal court process.
What happens if I am accused of breaking the law?
If you're accused of breaking the law when under 18, the police have a number of options available to to deal with you.
If the police want to talk to you about an offence or arrest, don't panic! Experienced youth lawyers are available to help you on the Youth Advice Hotline. Make sure you contact us so we can help. Call 1800 LAQ LAQ (1800 527 527).
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've 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 previous diversionary option.
Get legal advice before admitting that you're 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.
Taking 'no action'
The police may take no action for a first or minor offence—it's like an informal cautioning.
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 committed an offence (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're an 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.
A caution will not form part of your criminal history and can only be disclosed in limited circumstances.
Being brought before the court
If you're 18 years of age or under, and you are charged with an offence, you will have to appear in the Children’s Court.
The police don't have to arrest you to charge you with an offence and send you to court.
There are 3 ways the police can bring you before the Children’s Court. They may:
Notice to appear
A police officer gives you a notice to appear. They must do this discreetly, usually not at your school or workplace. 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 committed 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.
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's 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're arrested and kept in custody, the police must bring you before a court as soon as reasonably possible so that you can apply to the court for bail.
Will my parents find out if I am charged with an offence?
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 Child Safety, Seniors and Disability Services.
If you go to court for an offence your parents are expected to attend court with you. A magistrate will usually not decide your case unless a parent is present.
Which court do I go to?
If you are charged with an offence you will have to appear in the Childrens Court to appear before a Childrens Court magistrate.
Sometimes, juvenile offenders with very serious charges may have to go to Supreme Court.
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. A duty lawyer is a free lawyer who will give you legal advice and appear for your matter on your court date.
Will my court proceedings be confidential?
As a child you won't be able to be identified by the media or anyone else. The only exception to this rule is where the offence is considered to be particularly serious.
Any appearance in the Childrens Court is closed. This means that members of the public or media are not allowed in the court although the Magistrate may allow the media to attend in limited circumstances. Even if the media is allowed to watch your case they are not allowed to publish your photo or identify you in any way.
The public is generally able to watch proceedings before the Childrens Court of Queensland but are unable to publish anything that would identify you.
Applying for bail
If you're 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:
- if you'll show up for court
- if you'll do something else that is against the law
- if you'll will endanger anyone's safety or welfare
- if you'll 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 situation, including where you are living, if you're going to school or working, and if you have been in trouble before
- if you've previously been granted bail
- anything else the court thinks is relevant.
The court can decide to put conditions on your bail. These could include:
- Residential conditions meaning you have to live at a certain house (eg with your parents or another relative).
- Reporting conditions meaning 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.
You should get legal advice before applying for bail. Legal Aid Queensland has a specialist bail team who will be able to give you advice and may be able to appear for you.
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
The Youth Advice Hotline is available to give children legal advice about dealing with the police, going to court or getting charged. Call 1800 LAQ LAQ (1800 527 527).
The following organisations may be able to give you legal advice.
Youth Advocacy Centre has a community legal and social welfare service for young people up to 18 years.
Youth Law Australia is a legal advice service for young people giving free legal advice to people under 18 via email.
YFS Legal has legal information, advice and representation in criminal law matters to young people aged 25 years or younger.
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 be able to help with your matter. They don't give legal advice.
Kids Helpline is a 24 hour free and confidential telephone, online and email counselling service for children aged 5 to 18 years.
Queensland Police Service investigates complaints about criminal offences.
Queensland Courts give information on the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, district court, magistrates court, Coroners Court, Childrens Court of Queensland and Land Court.
Disclaimer: This page is provided as information only, and is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should contact us or speak to a lawyer. View our full disclaimer.
Last updated 13 April 2023
If you have a general question for Legal Aid Queensland, please use the general question form or call 1300 65 11 88, Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm.