What can the Police do if they catch a child or young person breaking the law?
If you are a child (under the age of 14 years) or young person (aged over 14 years and under 17 years) who has been caught committing a crime, the Police can:
- give you a warning and send your parents a letter (if the offence is not serious and you have not committed previous offences)
- refer you to a youth justice Family Group Conference (if a warning is not considered enough)
- give you a formal “caution” (if recommended by a youth justice Family Group Conference)
- arrest and charge you (in which case you will go to Youth Court)
If you are aged less than 14 years then unless you’ve committed a serious crime (e.g. murder) or previous crimes (i.e. this is not your first offence) your case will probably be dealt with through family group conferences.
More about how the youth justice process works is on the Victims Information website and the Youthlaw website.
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What is the Youth Court and how is it different from the adult courts?
The Youth Court is a division of the District Court that deals mostly with young people aged 12 to 16 who have been charged by the police with breaking the law.
It’s less formal than other courts. Youth Court hearings are closed to the general public (news reporters can be there, but can’t publish anything without the Judge’s permission).
Unlike in other criminal courts, there is no “guilty” or “not guilty”. Instead, you can deny the charge and the judge will arrange for a defended hearing in the Youth Court; if you do not deny the charge you’ll be referred to a youth justice co-ordinator for a family group conference.
If you don’t have a lawyer, the court will appoint you a youth advocate for free – this is a lawyer who can speak on your behalf and defend you in the hearing. The judge will usually speak to you directly as well.
If the judge decides that you did commit the offence which the Police have charged you with, they will request a family group conference to decide on a plan for you.
You won’t get a criminal record if your case is dealt with by the Youth Court - but if it is referred to the District or High Court and you are sentenced, then you will have a criminal record.
More information about Youth Court is on the Community Law website and the Youth Court website.
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What is a youth justice Family Group Conference?
This is a meeting attended by you, your support people, your family or whanau, and the Youth Justice Coordinator (as the facilitator). Others who may also attend include the police, Youth Aid Officer, a staff member from Oranga Tamariki, and possibly also the victim/s of your offending or alleged offending. This is different from a care and protection Family Group Conference, which is held when there are concerns about a child’s or young person’s welfare.
A Family Group Conference might be held either:
- before any court appearance happens to decide if your case should go before the court in the first place, or
- after you have been to court, to work out what you did, why you did it, and to decide how it can be put right.
The people at the conference may decide:
- that the police should “caution” you (if you break the law again the Police might have to charge you)
- to make a diversionary plan (which might include you apologising to the victim or doing community work, for example). It can also include a curfew and restrictions on where you can go.
If you stick to the plan, then the charge will probably be withdrawn. If you don’t, the Youth Court can make an order which can include restitution (returning property to the victim), reparations (pay compensation to the victim), community work or supervision (going to activities set up by a supervisor, or living in a Oranga Tamariki youth justice residence).
For more information about Family Group Conferences see the Community Law website.
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What sentences can the Youth Court give me for breaking the law?
Unless you have committed a serious offence, or keep breaking the law, you will usually have to make up for your offence in some other way rather than having to go to court (this is called “diversion”).
Depending on the seriousness of the crime, this can include things like:
- having to pay a fine
- having to pay reparation to the victim
- having to return the victim's property to them
- having some of your property (e.g. your car) confiscated
- disqualification from driving
- participation in a parenting education programme, mentoring programme or drug and alcohol programme
- some form of "supervision" (for example, being under supervision of Oranga Tamariki for up to six months)
- community work
These are listed in more detail on the Community Law website.
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When might a young person be transferred to the adult courts?
Young people who commit serious offences such as murder, arson, or supply of Class 'A' drugs can be transferred from the Youth Court to the appropriate District or High Court to have their case heard.
The District and High Courts can impose different sentences from the Youth Court, such as imprisonment or supervision by a probation officer (which can include drug and alcohol counselling or anger management).