Youth Justice Court (Tas)
In Tasmania, the Youth Justice Court hears cases involving defendants aged between ten and eighteen. This encompasses the youngest offenders in the justice system, as children under the age of ten cannot be charged with a criminal offence. Juveniles over the age of ten face the justice system if they commit a criminal act, but there is a focus on rehabilitation over punishment. This article explains the role of the Youth Justice Court in Tasmania.
The Youth Justice Division of the Magistrates Court operates under the Youth Justice Act 1997. This legislation is designed to encourage juvenile defendants to take personal responsibility for their actions. The Act stipulates that:
- the community must be protected from illegal behaviour; but
- detaining a youth is the last resort and should be for as short a duration as possible;
- a youth should never be treated more severely than an adult. Instead, they should be sanctioned appropriately given their age, maturity, criminal history and cultural identity;
- an Indigenous defendant’s community should be involved in their proceeding;
- sanctions should provide an opportunity to develop social responsibility;
- the victims of crime should have the opportunity to participate in the justice process; and
- guardians should be involved in the sentencing phase and encouraged to supervise the youth and help them fulfil their obligations.
A matter will be heard in the Youth Justice Court when it is:
- a serious matter;
- the defendant does not admit to the offence;
- the defendant does not have the option of a formal caution or community conference; or
- the community conference is unsuccessful, or the defendant does not attend or fails to comply with the outcome.
Older adolescents (fifteen or older) charged with some serious offences can choose whether their matter is heard in the Youth Justice Court or the Supreme Court of Tasmania. The young person should consult with their solicitor before making a decision on the venue.
The Magistrate of the Youth Justice Court handles criminal trials and applications for restraining orders against minors. In Tasmania, one Magistrate hears all youth justice matters in the Youth Justice Court. This means that the court maintains a consistent approach to youth justice with an awareness of issues such as substance abuse, illiteracy, homelessness, and educational disadvantage. The court maintains a specialist list of cases involving these issues that receive more intensive supervision and case management from relevant agencies.
Who Attends The Youth Justice Court?
The Youth Justice Court is a closed court. The media and members of the general public are not permitted inside the courtroom. The people who can be present include:
- the magistrate and other court staff, including security guards;
- representatives from the Department of Communities, Child Protection and Department of Education;
- Save The Children;
- the police prosecutor;
- early intervention police officers;
- the defendant;
- the defendant’s guardian and legal representative;
- witnesses; and
- any other individual the court considers helpful in the proceeding.
The Youth Justice Court ensures that the defendant understands the purpose of the court proceeding, the offence and possible penalties, and their rights in the circumstances. Every young defendant has the right to legal representation and other rights when entering a plea. The court must also provide the defendant with access to relevant records and reports and invite the defendant to comment at particular points in the proceeding. The court will consider the defendant’s age, maturity, and familial, social and cultural background throughout the proceedings.
It is vital for a defendant to attend any Youth Justice Court proceeding. If the defendant is unable to attend, they should contact the court immediately and explain the reason why they cannot attend. If a minor fails to attend a hearing and does not notify the court, they may face arrest and detainment.
Youth Justice Workers
The Department of Communities appoints Youth Justice workers to provide information to the court about the defendant. The Youth Justice worker also organises community conferences, supervises formal court orders such as community service orders and probation, and manages supervised release after detention.
If the defendant is found guilty of an offence, the magistrate of the Youth Justice Court can choose to do any of the following:
- Dismiss the charge (perhaps with a reprimand or good behaviour bond);
- Release the offender with conditions;
- Fine the offender;
- Order probation, community service or youth detention (pre-sentence report required). A conviction may or may not be recorded if the magistrate sentences the defendant to detention;
- Order suspended detention;
- Order compensation or restitution for any damage; or
- Order attendance at a community conference for less-serious matters.
If the offender fails to comply with the magistrate’s orders, there may be a new hearing and an increased penalty applied.
The criminal law team at Go To Court can help if you have any questions about processes or sentencing in Tasmania. Please contact our team today for any legal advice or representation in court.