Criminal Records Obtained as a Juvenile (NT)

There are a lot of misconceptions about how criminal convictions recorded when a person is under 18 affect the person later in life. When a young person between the ages of 10 and 18 is found guilty of an offence in the NT, the Youth Justice Court may record a conviction or make a finding of guilt without conviction. This distinction can make a difference to whether the record can be disclosed in court when they are an adult. This article outlines how criminal records obtained as a juvenile are treated in the NT.

Convictions obtained as a juvenile

When a young person is convicted of an offence, the conviction remains on their record forever. However, five years after a conviction is recorded against a juvenile, it becomes a spent conviction provided the person does not re-offend during that period.  

When a conviction is spent, it no longer has to be disclosed in certain situations. For instance, a spent conviction will not show up on a National Police Check and if the person is asked whether they have had any criminal convictions, they are not obliged to disclose it.   

Findings of guilt without conviction

Under section 136 of the Youth Justice Act 2005, when the Youth Justice Court finds a young person under 15 guilty of an offence without recording a conviction, no court other than the Youth Justice Court may make mention of the finding of guilt.

This means that if a child is found guilty of offences when they are younger than 15 and is subsequently found guilty of offences as an adult, they will be treated as if they have no criminal record.

However, if a child under 15 is found guilty of offences without conviction and is then found guilty of more offences while they are still a juvenile, the court will have regard to the earlier offences for sentencing purposes.  

The Queen v JHW

In the 2021 matter of The Queen v JHW, the Full Court of the Supreme Court considered the precise meaning of section 136 of the Youth Justice Act.

In that case, JHW pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery in the Supreme Court. The offence was committed when he was 13. JHW had been dealt with by the courts for criminal offending on three previous occasions.

The previous offences were:

  • Property damage, possessing stolen property and assault with intent to steal;
  • Property damage, trespass, unlawful entry and stealing;
  • Aggravated robbery.

For all of these offences, JHW had been found guilty without the recording of a conviction. He was placed on a 12-month good behaviour order in relation to the aggravated robbery.

When the court same to sentence JHW for the new count of aggravated robbery, which amounted to a breach of the good behaviour order, the defence argued that the court could not take into account any offences of which JHW had been found guilty without conviction while he was under 15.

The prosecution disagreed.

Essentially, the parties disagreed over whether the reference to ‘any court other than the Youth Justice Court’ in section 136 of the Youth Justice Act included the Supreme Court.

The court found that the section could not apply to the Supreme Court when it is dealing with the young person while they are still a juvenile. This was because when the Supreme Court deals with matters under the Youth Justice Act, it is required to:

  • Have regard to orders made by the Youth Justice Court;
  • Have regard to pre-sentence reports that contain information about matters dealt with in the Youth Justice Court, including matters that resulted in findings of guilt without conviction;
  • Assess the youth’s likelihood of reoffending and offence history;
  • Deal with breaches of orders made by the Youth Justice Court.
  • Hear appeals against decisions made by the Youth Justice Court.

The Supreme Court could not perform the above functions if it was prevented from having regard to findings of guilt made in the Youth Justice Court.

The court concluded that the purpose of section 136 is to give offenders under 15 the benefit of not having their criminal history raised in adult courts in the future. The Supreme Court is not precluded from taking youthful findings of guilt without conviction into account when dealing with the offender while they are still a juvenile; however, it is precluded from taking these matters into account once the person has reached the age of majority.  

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

Author

Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection, domestic violence and family law in the Northern Territory and Queensland.
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