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Police Powers and Young People (NT)

In the Northern Territory, a young person over 12 can be arrested or summonsed and charged with a criminal offence. When this occurs, police are required to follow certain procedures, including informing the young person’s parent or guardian. The powers and responsibilities of NT police officers when dealing with young people are set out in the Youth Justice Act 2005 and the Police Administration Act 1978. This article sets out police powers when dealing with young people in the NT.

Arresting a young person

A young person may be arrested if a police officer has a warrant for their arrest or believes on reasonable grounds that they have committed, are committing, or are about to commit an offence.

Police may use reasonable force to arrest a young person if other measures have failed to resolve the situation. The amount of force that is reasonable depends on the age, gender, health and background of the youth.

Responsible adult

As soon as possible after a young person is arrested or charged with an offence, the arresting officer must take reasonable steps to ensure that a responsible adult is notified. A responsible adult is a person who exercises parental responsibility for the young person – usually a parent or guardian.

The responsible adult must be informed of the date and time that the youth is required to appear at court.

Interviewing a young person

Before interviewing a young person, the police must:

  • Inform the youth they have the right to legal advice and provide them with access to a lawyer in a place that allows them privacy;
  • Inform them that they may contact a friend, relative or responsible adult to be present during the interview.

The police must not interview a young person in relation to an offence unless a support person is present.

A young person does not have to participate in an interview with the police. The police must inform the young person of their right to silence and that anything they say may be used as evidence against them. If a young person exercises their right to silence, the police must not interview them.

A person must not be interviewed while they are sick, injured, hungry, tired, intoxicated or intimidated. If an interview is conducted when a suspect is unwell, this may result in any admissions they make being found to be inadmissible in proceedings against them.

Searching a young person

A young person’s property, person or clothing must not be searched by the police without a support person for the young person present unless:

  • The search needs to be carried out urgently;
  • The delay caused by allowing a support person to be present would create an unacceptable risk of harm to the young person or to another person or the loss or destruction of evidence.

The police must not require the young person to remove their clothing unless they have reasonable grounds to believe that doing so may reveal evidence of the commission of an offence.  If the person and clothing of a young person are searched this must be done by a person of the same gender as the young person and in a place that allows the youth privacy.


The taking of fingerprints from a suspect is classified as an identifying procedure. Identifying procedures include taking prints of fingers, hands, feet or toes and the taking of photographs.

Police may carry out identifying procedures on a youth who is aged 14 or older and is in custody or who has been charged or summonsed in relation to an offence. If a youth is aged under 14, the police require the approval of the court to carry out identifying procedures.

Intimate and non-intimate procedures

Intimate procedures involve the examination and taking of samples from an intimate part of the body. Non-intimate procedures include taking samples of saliva or hair, taking photographs or impressions of non-intimate parts of the body and examinations of non-intimate parts of the body.

In order to carry out an intimate procedure on a youth, the police must have the approval of a court. The intimate procedure must be carried out by a medical practitioner, who may be assisted by a police officer.

In order to carry out a non-intimate procedure on a youth, the police must have the approval of either a court or a senior officer. A senior officer must not approve the procedure unless satisfied that the youth is over 14. However, a non-intimate procedure can be carried out on a youth without court approval if both the youth and their responsible adult consent to this.  


If a young person is believed to have committed an offence in the NT, the police have the discretion to deal with the matter by way of youth diversion. This can involve giving the youth a verbal warning, giving the youth a written warning, convening a Youth Justice Conference with the youth, or referring the youth to a diversion program.

For a matter to be dealt with by way of youth diversion, both the youth and their responsible adult must consent. If the youth completes all the requirements of their diversion satisfactorily, the matter is complete. If the youth fails to complete their diversion, they may be charged with the offence and required to finalise the matter in the Youth Justice Court.  

The Youth Justice Court has the power to impose a range of penalties when a young person is found guilty of an offence. These include good behaviour bonds, community work orders, fines and terms of detention.  

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.


Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
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