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Queensland's Youth Justice System has been undergoing a series of changes designed to help support children and young people who have been charged with a criminal offence.
Find out more about the inclusion of 17-year-old persons in the youth justice system and youth justice reforms.
Young people can call 1800 LAQ LAQ (1800 527 527) to talk to a lawyer and get free and confidential legal advice about:
Call the Youth Legal Advice Hotline:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
The court can decide to put conditions on your bail. These could include:
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.
You may need legal advice if you:
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.
Lawmail 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.
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.
Last updated 27 April 2022