The Children’s Court deals with cases involving children and young people
It hears the cases relating to:
- The care and protection of children and young people, under 18 years of age.
- Criminal offences involving young people who were under 18 years at the time of the alleged offence, including breaches of parole and release on parole for young offenders.
- Traffic cases involving young defendants who are not old enough to hold a driver’s license or permit. (Some other traffic offences, such as where a juvenile under 18, holds a license and offends or appeals a driving suspension, are dealt with in the Local Court).
- Applications for Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs) where the defendant is under the age of 18 years
- Applications for Compulsory Schooling Orders in the case of long term absence or truancy.
In regional areas, Local and District Court houses act as Children’s Courts, such as in Lismore, Mullumbimby, Grafton and Coffs Harbour.
Why is there a special Children’s Court?
The Children’s Court in New South Wales was established in 1905, in recognition of the fact that many of the children who committed crimes were destitute, homeless or orphans, and needed established systems to protect and rehabilitate them.
Over time, the legislation that governs the way the Children’s Court operates has become more complex, but the fundamental principles remain the same — the Court attempts to protect vulnerable children at risk, and also to rehabilitate children who have committed crimes and steer them away from criminal offending.
Care and protection hearings
A staff member of The Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) will explain to the Court the reasons they are concerned about a child’s safety and wellbeing. Parents and guardians of the child will be provided with a copy of this report.
After this, there is a chance for the legal representatives of the child, and the child’s caregivers, guardians or family to respond. The Magistrate will make the final decision, based on all information provided. The child’s caregivers, guardians or family do have a chance to say what their preferred outcome is.
Young people facing criminal charges
Many young people are entitled to legal aid to help pay the costs of legal representation, or they can hire a private lawyer.
A lawyer will represent the young person in court, to be their advocate — listening to their side of the story, explaining the court process, answering questions about the process.
The lawyer is bound by client-privilege, or client confidentiality, meaning that everything the lawyer and the child speak about remains only between the two of them, unless the child gives the lawyer their permission to tell someone else. There are some exceptions to this, for example, if the child threatens to hurt another person, or commit a further crime.
Attending the Children’s Court
Some criminal matters are bought before a specific Children’s Court, and a Children’s Court Magistrate, (e.g. the Children’s Court sitting in Coffs or Lismore, before a Magistrate who is identified as the Children’s Court Magistrate). However all Magistrates in NSW are qualified to hear matters involving children and young people as offenders, so some matters are bought before a Magistrate sitting in the adults Local Court, before a regular Magistrate, and the Court is then closed to anyone not involved in the proceeding. This protects the young person’s identity.
The young person will receive a Court Attendance Notice, which is issued by police and other prosecuting authorities to commence criminal or traffic proceedings against a person.
You have to turn up for court when your Court Attendance Notice tells you to. If you fail to turn up, a warrant can be issued for your arrest. If you are sick, or there is a good reason you cannot attend court on the day you are supposed to then you need to contact your lawyer, or the court directly so that the hearing can be postponed.
Sometimes it can take months for a case to reach court, and this can be frustrating. During the Covid-19 pandemic, courts are still operating, mostly via telephone, email and audio-visual link, but there are still likely to be delays even when courts are able to operate normally again.
But aside from court delays, your matter can be adjourned for any of the following reasons:
- You plead not guilty
- Your lawyer is asking the police to change the charges or the facts
- You plead guilty and there are reports or other information that needs to be compiled for the case, for example, a youth worker’s report or information obtained from a counsellor or doctor, or character references.
The Children’s Court is much less formal than a Local, District or Supreme court, although it operates with a similar structure and similar rules, particularly those relating to having polite behaviour, good manners, punctuality and referring to the Magistrate and “Your Honour”.
It can still be a daunting place for a young person to find themselves, so engaging a lawyer who is experienced in the Children’s Court can make the process much less stressful.
This post is informative only. It is not legal advice. If you have a specific legal matter you’d like to discuss, please contact us.