Introduction to the Youth Court
It's part of the District Court and deals mostly with people aged between 12 and16 years old who have been charged by the police with breaking the law.
It has its own special Judges who are used to dealing with young people. The Principal Youth Court Judge is Judge Andrew Becroft, who was appointed in June 2001.
It's closed to the public. Media can attend, but they must check with the Judge before publishing anything.
The Youth Court deals with criminal offending by children and young people that is too serious to be dealt with any other way. It hears all cases to do with young people, except murder and manslaughter, or when a young person chooses to have a jury trial. But even these cases begin in the Youth Court, with the Judge deciding if the case should go ahead.
The Youth Court will appoint a youth advocate (lawyer) to help a child or young person who doesn't have a lawyer. The youth advocate explains the charge and asks about what happened. He or she tells the child or young person what the options are, and the best way of dealing with the case. Their job is making sure the court understands the child or young person's point of view and to help them take part in the court process.
It may appoint a lay advocate to support the child or young person or their whānau/family group in court. Lay advocates are people with mana or standing in the young person's community. They make sure the court understands any cultural matters to do with the case.
A child or young person can only be charged in the Youth Court when they've been arrested or when a family group conference has been held and the FGC recommends that a charge should be laid.
If the child or young person doesn't deny in court that they broke the law, there will be a different type of family group conference.
What happens at a family group conference
It's a meeting for everyone involved in the case, including the child or young person, their family and the victim of the crime. It lets everyone involved have a say. The Youth Court Judge can't decide what will happen next until there's been a family group conference.
Everyone at the meeting talks about what should happen next, and they work on a plan for the child or young person. This suggests ways that the child or young person can make up for breaking the law.
The Youth Court Judge is told what the plan is. He or she nearly always approves the plan, and the court makes sure that someone is checking that the child or young person carries it out properly.
What to expect at a Youth Court hearing
Youth Court hearings are less formal than an adult court, (for example, the child or young person is called by their first name) but it is still a court. The idea is that children and young people shouldn't be afraid to take part.
Because the public can't be at Youth Court hearings, the child or young person only comes into the courtroom when their name is called. Their parent(s) and other adult supporters can come, and the youth advocate or lawyer, police, court staff and Judge are there too.
The youth advocate or lawyer will say if the charge is denied or not (that means whether the child or young person says they broke the law or not), or if the child or young person needs more time to decide.
If the charge is not denied, the Judge will ask for a family group conference to be held.
If the child or young person denies a less serious charge, the Judge sets a date for a defended hearing in the Youth Court.
If it's a more serious charge, or if the child or young person wants a jury trial, the Judge will set a date for a preliminary hearing in the Youth Court.
At the preliminary hearing the Judge will decide if there's enough evidence for a trial.
At the preliminary hearing, the child or young person can decide to tell the court that they did commit the crime (plead guilty) at any time. If they do, their case can stay in the Youth Court if the Judge offers the child or young person this option. Otherwise it will move to the District or High Court (depending on how serious crime is).
Why do some cases go to the District or High Court?
if the police believe a child or young person committed murder or manslaughter, and the preliminary hearing shows there's enough evidence for the case to continue, it will have to go to the High Court.
For other serious offences (indictable offences), if the Judge decides at the preliminary hearing the young person has a case to answer, he or she might ask them if they'd like to stay in Youth Court. If the Judge does not offer the child or young person that option, or if the young person decides not to stay in the Youth Court, the case will move to the District or High Court (depending on how serious crime was).
At the preliminary hearing, the child or young person can tell the court that they did break the law (plead guilty) at any time. If they do, their case can stay in the Youth Court, if the Judge offers the young person this option, otherwise the case will move to the District or High Court (depending on the charge).
What else can happen in court?
The Youth Court Judge can ask for medical, psychological and psychiatric reports to help him or her decide what to do about a child or young person who has broken the law.
The Judge may ask for a report from a social worker if he or she thinks the child or young person's case is serious and may incur a serious penalty.
There are a number of things that might happen after a child or young person has appeared in the Youth Court and the charge against them has been proved or the child or young person has admitted the charge. These are listed below from the least serious outcome to the most serious:
- police decide not to take the case any further (they withdraw the information) – this will be the same as if the child or young person never got into trouble
- the case is discharged as if it was never laid
- the young person is admonished or formally warned
- the child or young person will be let off unless they break the law again within a certain time – 'conditional discharge'
- the child or young person has to return or give up property – restitution or forfeiture or confiscation
- the young person does something for the victim that helps make up for the offending – reparation
- the Judge orders the young person to pay money – pay a fine
- the child or young person is ordered to attend a parenting education, alcohol or drug rehabilitation or mentoring programme
- a parent, guardian or other person who looks after the child or young person is ordered to attend a parenting education programme
- Child, Youth and Family (CYF) or another responsible adult is put in charge of the child or young person, helping them stay out of trouble – supervision
- supervision with conditions, like having to stay in a CYF residential facility, or have the child or young person’s curfew monitored electronically, having to check in with the Judge regularly
- the child or young person can be disqualified from driving, if he or she committed a traffic offence
- the child or young person must do some work that's good for the community – community work
- the young person has to go to weekday, evening, or weekend activities, or a programme, for up to three months – supervision with activity
- the young person has to live in a Child, Youth and Family (CYF) home for three months – supervision with residence
- the child or young person's case is moved to the District Court for sentencing – convict and transfer to the District Court
These outcomes go on a child or young person's 'record' of behaviour, but, apart from a section 283O conviction and transfer order, they are not 'criminal convictions' and do not affect the child or young person’s chances for a job or overseas travel.