When a young offender is arrested or charged, it can cause a great deal of confusion and stress to all those around them. This guide seeks to explain some of the more common questions asked when a minor is facing, or about to face, the Children’s Court of Queensland (CCQ) or the Children’s Court (CQ).
What is a Child?
This may seem like a straightforward question, however for the purpose of the Children’s Court of Queensland and Children’s Court there are broadly four age brackets, each outlining a different extent of criminal responsibility.
- Full criminal responsibility. The age of majority is 17 years old in Queensland. For other jurisdictions this age is 18.
- The age of discernment. Age 14 to 16 in Queensland. Young offenders may be held fully responsible for their criminal acts, but they will generally be subject to different sentencing options than adults.
- The age of disputable presumption of guilt (doli incapax). Age 10 to 13 years old. It is presumed that minor offenders are incapable of forming the criminal intent necessary to be guilty of a crime. This presumption may be rebutted however.
- The age of no criminal responsibility. Age below 10. The rule is absolute, the Commonwealth and all Australian States and Territories have been consistent in removing criminal liability from those under the age of 10.
A Quick Note on Doli Incapax
When a child falls within the range of Doli Incapax, the prosecution must prove that the crime was committed deliberately and with intent to cause harm. It must be proven that at the time of the commission of the crime, the child was fully aware of the consequences of their actions and possessed the mental capacity to know right from wrong.
What Happens When a Child is Arrested?
When the arrest of a child is made, the police must promptly advise the parent, guardian or carer of the child of such an arrest. In the absence of any capable parent, guardian or carer, the Chief Executive of the Department of Communities will be notified.
The police are cautioned from taking statements from a child charged with an indictable offence. The CCQ can refuse to hear any statement taken without the presence of an independent person such as a parent, or lawyer.
The Children’s CourtÂ
There are two types of Children’s Courts in Queensland.
The first is a specially set-up Magistrates Court, called the Children’s Court.
The second is the Children’s Court of Queensland, a special District Court that generally deals with more serious offences.
Where can Children’s Court be Held?
Generally, The CQ or CCQ can be held at any place within Queensland, where a Magistrates Court or District Court sits. The CCQ and CQ are both closed courts.
What is a Closed Court?
A closed court means that only persons who are involved in the case and those mentioned in the law are allowed inside the courtroom to witness the proceedings, those people include:
- The defendant,
- The parent/s or adult member/s of the defendants family,
- Any witnesses providing evidence (but only whilst they are providing evidence),
- A person who can provide emotional support to a witness (only whilst they are providing evidence),
- Welfare service personnel and
- Any person required by court to be present.
Information about the child must be kept confidential and identifying information is not allowed to be published, unless a court order allows for the publication.
Australias criminal justice system works towards the rehabilitation of young offenders and the prevention of the further commission of offences rather than imposing punishment.
Sentencing Alternatives for Minors
To prevent juvenile offenders from being detained in custody, the law offers a great deal of sentencing alternatives, these include:
- Good behaviour bond (up to 1 year),
- Payment of a fine,
- Probation order (6 months to 1 year),
- Community service orders (20 to 120 hours depending on age),
- Intensive supervision orders,
- Conditional release orders,
- Restitution and compensation (if the child has a means of income, or the parents are willing to provide one), and
- License disqualification
The Courts when giving decisions must take into account the age of the child, the cultural background, any criminal record, the methods of rehabilitation most suited to the child, and any support structures the child may have (such as family, employment, friends of good character…).
Youth Justice Conference
An option available to both police and the court is to send a juvenile defendant to a Youth Justice Conference. The conference is held with the anticipation that it will allow both the defendant and the victim to discuss the issues surrounding the offence, and how the defendant may make amends for their actions.
The conference is attended by the defendant, the defendants family, the victim, a police officer, and a conference mediator.
The victim of the offence may choose not to attend the conference, in which case the conference is not held.
A Youth Justice Conference can be held either before or after sentencing.
Sentencing in Anticipation of Detention
Should the prosecution seek a custodial sentence, a Pre-Sentence Report is required to be completed.
A Pre-Sentence report is prepared by the Department of Communities and presented to the court, the defendant and the prosecution.
The report seeks to educate the court on the defendant, the defendants family, and any other relevant matters. These relevant matters can extend to cultural, mental and physical issues that may affect the defendant.
Should a custodial sentence be ordered, a child will be sent to a Youth Detention Centre. The child will remain at the centre until the sentence is completed, or parole is available.
Youth Detention Centres differ greatly from jails. A Youth Detention Centre has a focus on vocational education, educational, developmental, recreational, and cultural programs. A Youth Detention Centre also places great value on family visits, legal assistance and cultural influence.
A Youth Detention Centre focuses on rehabilitation by developing the social and educational skills of a detainee, not by simply detaining them. As always, a custodial sentence is a method of last resort when dealing with a defendant.
If your child has been charged or arrested, it is wise to seek legal assistance prior to a court date. This can allow the lawyer to prepare the case and better inform you of the potential outcomes of your child’s specific set of circumstances.