What is the procedure in the Children’s Court?

The Children’s Court is a unique jurisdiction with many different rules and procedures to the adult courts.

The procedure for both trials and sentencing is significantly different for juveniles than it is for adults. This article is a brief summary of some of the major differences.

Trial procedure

Persons who are actually juveniles (aged under 18), or were juveniles at the time of the offence, are all charged in the Children’s Court. The process of being charged commences, in all cases, before a Magistrate in the Children’s Court.

Similar to the adult courts, if the charge is an indictable offence, the DPP prosecute the case.

An accused who pleads not guilty always has the option to elect for trial by jury in the District or Supreme Court, depending on the charge. That is, the accused as a child will be tried by a jury although if convicted will still be subject to the different sentencing regime under theĀ Young Offenders Act.

If an accused does not elect for trial by jury then they will be served with “section 19B” papers, which is the disclosure evidence the police have obtained in the case. They will then either be tried before a Magistrate, or before the President of the Children’s Court.

Generally, charges where an accused will receive 12 months’ detention or less will be heard before a Magistrate. This is because Magistrates are limited to imposing 12 months detention or less. More serious cases where the sentence is likely to exceed 12 months are heard before the President. For example, serious sexual offences are commonly heard before the President.

If an accused does not elect trial by jury in the District or Supreme Court then the trial is always heard before a single judicial officer. This is a significant forensic decision to make and we recommend you contact us for expert advice.

Sentencing procedure

A person who was a juvenile at the time of the offence is always sentenced under the ‘Juvenile Justice Principles’ found in theĀ Young Offenders Act. These principles, in contrast to the adult courts, focus primarily on a young person’s rehabilitation. They attempt to keep young offenders away from the courts, other offenders and custody, as much as is possible after allowing for the severity of the offence and an offender’s criminal history. For example, for many first offenders they will be diverted to either the Juvenile Justice Team or Court Conferencing, and if they successfully complete these programs they won’t receive any punishment from the court.

The sentencing options change depending on whether an offender is 17 or older at the time of sentence. An offender aged 17 can be sentenced either under the young offender’s legislation, or to a community order under the adult Sentencing Act.

An offender aged 18 or over at the time of sentence is sentenced under the Sentencing Act and is subject to adult penalties. This means things like the juvenile justice team are no longer an option. However, while the adult penalties apply, the court must still make a spent conviction order if under the young offenders laws, the court would be required to not record a conviction. This makes it far easier to obtain a spent conviction than if an application were required to be made to a Magistrate or Judge.

Whether an offender who was a juvenile at the time of the offence is aged 17 or 18 when sentenced, the principles of juvenile justice still apply. That is so whether they are sentenced under the sentencing act or the young offenders act. So the penalty will generally always be more lenient for an offence committed as a juvenile. Further, section 189 of the Young Offenders Act applies to any conviction of a person who was a juvenile at the time of the offence. This means most convictions, whether sentence was imposed under the Sentencing Act or not, generally expire after a period of 2 years have elapsed since the completion of the sentence. However this rule does not apply to murder, attempted murder or manslaughter.


There are many more unique rules and procedures in the Children’s Court than are outlined in this article. Don’t hesitate to contact us today if you are facing charges that occurred when you were a juvenile.

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