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Youth Diversion (NT)

When the NT police believe that a young person has committed an offence, they have the option of referring the matter for youth diversion rather than laying charges. Having a matter dealt with by way of a diversion program allows a young person to take responsibility for their actions while avoiding the criminal justice system. This article deals with youth diversion in the NT.

When can a matter be referred for youth diversion?

A matter can be referred for youth diversion if:

  • both the young person and their parent or guardian consent to the matter being dealt with by way of diversion;
  • the offence is not a serious offence;
  • the offence is a serious offence but the police consider that diverting the matter is in the interests of justice;
  • the young person has not been in criminal trouble more than twice previously (unless there are exceptional circumstances).

Completion of diversion means no criminal proceedings

If a young person is diverted and the diversion is completed to the police’s satisfaction, there will be no criminal investigations or proceedings against the youth for the matter. However, if diversion is not completed satisfactorily, criminal proceedings may be commenced against the young person.

What does diversion involve?

A young person who is dealt with through youth diversion may simply receive a verbal or written warning. They may also be required to take part in a youth justice conference, where they speak to the victim and other persons affected by their actions.

Depending on the circumstances, youth diversion may also involve a young person taking part in alcohol or drug programs and/or community service programs.   

Youth diversion programs are run by the YWCA, the Tiwi Islands Council, Anglicare, Catholic care, Relationships Australia, Malabam Health Board, Groote Eylandt and Milyakburra Youth Development Unit and Walpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation.

Court referral for diversion

If a young person has been charged with offences and comes before the court, the court may adjourn the matter to be referred to youth diversion with the consent of the young person and the prosecution.

If the young person successfully completes the diversion program, the matter will be dismissed.

Young people who are not diverted

If a young person is charged with offences and the matter is not referred for diversion, they will go through a similar court process as an adult who is charged with offences. The young person will either plead guilty and proceed to be sentenced under the Youth Justice Act 2005 or plead not guilty and proceed to a contested hearing.

When a young person is sentenced by the Youth Justice Court, the magistrate can impose a range of penalties including good behaviour bonds, fines, Community Work Orders and terms of detention. 

When a young person pleads not guilty, the prosecution must serve the brief of evidence on their lawyer. They will then have the opportunity to assess the strength of the prosecution case and start preparing their defence. They will also have the opportunity to change their plea to guilty if it appears the prosecution case is strong, or to attempt to negotiate for the withdrawal of charges if the prosecution case appears weak.

Contrary to common perceptions, if a young person is found guilty of an offence, the conviction will remain on their criminal record even after they have become an adult. If they come back before the court for further offending as an adult, their criminal history, including offences committed as a juvenile, will be taken into account when they are sentenced.

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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