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  • Writer's pictureJarrod Carter

Criminal Proceedings in the Children’s Court

The Perth Children's Court deals with a variety of legal matters relating to children. This includes criminal matters, care and protection proceedings and restraining orders. It is situated at 160 Pier Street in Perth. Cases for this court are also held in other courthouses across Western Australia.

Criminal Matters

According to the Young Offenders Act 1994, the Children's Court is responsible for handling criminal cases involving young people aged between 10 and 17 years old who are charged with committing an offence. Even if a young person turns 18 after the date of the alleged crime, they will still be tried in the Children's Court.

The Court recognises that it is vital to ensure that children are not trapped within the criminal justice system due to its significance both socially and economically. The challenges faced by children who come in contact with the criminal justice system are often intricate and multi-dimensional, and the youth justice system must acknowledge this. As time goes on, it becomes increasingly important to concentrate on early intervention, diversion, and rehabilitation.

If an alleged offender pleads not guilty to the charge or charges, the matter will progress to trial. Serious matters including murder can be heard in the Children’s Court. For example, following the fatal attack of Patrick Slater in 2016, an 11-year-old boy, initially charged with murder, but was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, was dealt with in the Children’s Court.

If an offender pleads guilty or found to be guilty, the court has several options for penalties , including:

  • No punishment, with or without conditions.

The court may decide not to impose a punishment if they are convinced that the offender, or their parents, will fulfil the promises made to the court.

  • Referral to a Juvenile Justice Team.

Juvenile justice teams offer an alternative approach to dealing with young people who have committed offences or are at risk of offending. These teams emphasise the importance of young people taking responsibility for their actions, and work to help them address and overcome problems, rather than going through the court system. In order to be eligible for participation in a juvenile justice team, a young person must acknowledge their wrongdoing and be willing to make amends. The team will work with the young person to develop an action plan, which outlines the steps they need to take to rectify their actions. If the young person successfully completes the plan, they will not receive a criminal record.

  • A good behaviour bond.

A young person may promise to stay out of trouble for a period of time, typically several months or up to a year. If the offender breaches the bond, they will have to return to court and may be ordered to pay a fine or complete unpaid community work as decided by the court.

  • Fines, costs, restitution, and compensation.

The court may order that the offender's parents or another responsible adult pay a portion or all of the fines, costs, compensation, and restitution. If they do not pay, legal action may be taken against the adult as if they had committed the crime themselves. If the young person is found guilty, the court may impose a fine of up to $2,000 and order them to pay court costs. The prosecution may also request that the court orders the young person to pay compensation or restitution.

  • A youth community-based order.

This court order is overseen by a juvenile justice officer and may involve attending a rehabilitation centre or completing a course. The order can also include completing unpaid community work for between 10 and 100 hours, which must be completed within a three-month period, and is supervised. If the order includes supervision conditions, the offender must meet with their Juvenile Justice Officer and comply with their instructions. If they fail to pay, legal action may be taken against the offender to recover the outstanding funds.

  • An intensive youth supervision order, with or without detention.

If the order is imposed without detention, it is supervised by a juvenile justice officer, and the young offender may be ordered to attend a rehabilitation centre or course. The order may also include completing unpaid community work for between 10 and 100 hours, within a three-month period and under supervision. If the order includes supervision conditions, the offender must report to their juvenile justice officer up to three times a week and comply with their instructions. If the order includes detention, it is also referred to as a conditional release order. Under this order, the offender may be ordered to report to their juvenile justice officer highly frequently. If the offender fails to comply with the conditions set in the order, it can be cancelled by the court and the young person may be sent to detention.

  • A custodial sentence, such as detention or imprisonment.

Young offenders who are sentenced to detention may be sent to a juvenile detention centre. Once they reach the age of 18, they will be transferred to an adult prison.

  • An adult community-based order (if over 17 years of age).

A community-based order is a sentencing option that allows offenders to address their criminal behaviour while remaining in the community. It gives the court the flexibility to manage offenders in a way that is most appropriate for the offender and the community. Not all offences warrant a custodial sentence, and community-based orders provide an alternative for addressing the offender's behaviour. These orders allow the offender to participate in treatment, educational, vocational, or personal development programs. In certain cases, a community-based order may include a requirement to perform community service, providing offenders with the opportunity to contribute to their community while also addressing their own issues.

  • A responsible adult bond.

A responsible adult bond is when an adult makes a pledge to ensure that the offender stays out of trouble for a specific period of time. If the offender breaks the terms of the bond, the adult is responsible for paying a fine to the court.

Role of Parents

When a child goes to court, parents play a critical role. They can assist their child and provide information to the court. It's advisable to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. If the court requests a report on the child from a youth justice officer, parents should also attend the interview to stay informed about the progress.

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