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The Youth Justice System

The Youth Justice System

Young people are treated differently than adults in the criminal justice system.  The youth justice system deals with “children” aged 10 to 13 years, and “youth” aged 14 to 17 years. Some 17 year olds who have committed “less serious” offending will be dealt with through the youth justice system. However, 17 year olds who have committed “more serious” offending will go through the adult criminal justice system. If you commit an offence after turning 18, you will be treated as an adult by the police and will go through the adult criminal justice system.

This section will inform you about the youth justice system in NZ and how it works.

Will people know I’ve been to the Youth Court?

No, the Youth Court is closed to the public. Only court officials, lawyers, and certain people are allowed to be there – including your parents, your youth advocate, representatives from the Family Group Conference, the youth justice coordinator, social workers, medical professionals, any lay advocates, victims and their representatives (if they choose to come), and people who are given permission to attend by the judge.

Accredited news media reporters are also entitled to attend a Youth Court hearing. However, if they wish to publish any information about a Youth Court case, they will need the Court to give them permission to publish any reports about a Youth Court case. In deciding whether permission should be granted, the welfare and best interest of the child or young person shall be the first and most important consideration. If permission was granted,  certain details cannot be reported or made public including, the name of the child or young person or names of their parents or guardians, the name of the child’s school, any other information that can lead to the child being identified, or the name of the complainant or victim.

When am I considered an adult in the criminal system?

It depends, in some situations you will be treated as an adult at 17 and in other situations you will not be treated as an adult until you turn 18. Whether you are treated as an adult depends on two things; the seriousness of the offending and when the offending happened.

  • If you are charged with a “less serious” offence at 17, you will go through the youth justice system. A “less serious” offence could be shoplifting, common (minor) assault or trespassing. If you are charged with a “more serious” offence at 17 you will be treated as an adult. For a full list of all of the “more serious” offences see schedule 1A of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.
  • If the offending happened when you were younger than 18, it is possible to go through the youth justice system. However, once you turn 19 (despite the offending occurring before you turned 18), there is no requirement for you to be dealt with under the youth justice system.

How old do I have to be to be made responsible for a crime I have done?

I am under 10.

You will not be made responsible under the Youth Justice system, but Oranga Tamariki (formerly CYFs) will be told about what has happened and they may investigate. You and your family may then need to go to family group conferences and the Family Court.

I am 10-13.

If you are 10 to 13 years old, you will be made responsible under the youth justice system if you are suspected of committing or helping with murder or manslaughter.

You could also be dealt with under the youth justice system if you are a 12 or 13 years old and you:

  • are charged with a serious offence with a maximum penalty of jail for at least 14 years, or
  • have offended before, and the maximum penalty for your last offence was more than 10 years but less than 14 years in jail.

For every other offence, you will be dealt with by Oranga Tamariki under the care and protection system.  You and your family may need to go to family group conferences and the Family Court.

I am 14-17.

If you are aged between 14 and 17, you can be formally charged and prosecuted for any offence.

Serious offences like murder, manslaughter, arson, and in the case of 17 years olds “more serious” offences, are dealt with through the adult criminal courts.

For most other offences, you would go through the Youth Justice System and could be:

I am 18.

If you commit an offence at 18, you will be dealt with under the adult criminal justice system. If you committed an offence when you were younger than 18 and you have been charged at 18, you may be under the youth justice system. Once you turn 19, there is no requirement for you to be dealt with under the youth justice system.

What is the Youth Justice System?

When young people under the age of 18 offend, or are suspected of offending, they will generally go through the Youth Justice System. The Youth Justice System makes sure that a young person is dealt with in a way that acknowledges their needs and general well-being, while ensuring they are held accountable.

Most young offenders are kept out of courts. Minor offences are dealt with out of court by Police Youth Aid officers through Alternative Action Plans. More serious offending is dealt with by the Ministry for Children – Oranga Tamariki through a family group conference, and most serious offences will go through the Youth Court (or adult court).

What is a Police Youth Aid officer?

Police Youth Aid officers are specialist police that work with children and young people who are involved in crime or at risk of being involved and may be in need of care and protection.

Police Youth Aid officers try to keep young people out of the court system, while making sure young people who are offending are responsible for their actions through alternative action. They work with young people, their families, communities and youth workers to provide interventions and to repair any harm done to others.

If the crime is more serious, the young people will go through a Family Group Conference or the Youth Court in the most serious instance.

What is an Alternative Action Plan in the Police Youth Aid programme?

The police Alternative Action Plan is the scheme used by Police Youth Aid officers which targets youth offending. It is somewhat similar to the adult diversion scheme. The Officer will make a plan with the young person and the family of how they can make up for their wrongdoing. The plan could include home visits, written or face-to-face apologies, making reparations, participating in projects, participating in programmes or courses, engaging in pro-social activities, agreements around education, curfews, warnings, community work and others.

When does a Family Group Conference (FGC) happen?

A Family Group Conference (FGC) happens when the police consider a young person has committed a crime that is not minor or the young person is a repeat offender. The youth aid officer can then refer the young person to an FGC. FGC can also happen after a young person is arrested and charged and has appeared in the Youth Court, the Youth Court judge can order an FGC to happen.

What is a Family Group Conference (FGC)?

An FGC involves you, your youth advocate (if one has been arranged), your family/whanau members, the victims or their representative (if they choose to turn up), the police, social workers, any other relevant people and a Youth Justice Coordinator.  The Youth Justice Co-ordinator is the person who organises and runs the FGC.

At the FGC, everyone is entitled to have their say, including you.  The purpose of the meeting is, firstly, to find out if you admit or deny the charge.  If you admit the charge, the second purpose of the meeting is to work out how you will make up for what you have done.

For more information about your FGC, contact YouthLaw.

What happens at a Family Group Conference (FGC)?

The FGC coordinator will direct the meeting. The police will present a summary of facts. You will then be given a chance to respond by admitting or denying the charge.

I don’t agree to committing the charge:

If you feel that you have not committed the crime that the police say you have, you can deny the police charge.  It is a good idea to get advice from a lawyer before taking this step.  If you deny the charge, but the police still think you committed the crime, your case may be referred to the Youth Court.

I agree to committing the charge:

If you agree to committing the charge, FGC gives you a chance to put things right.  Everyone attending the FGC will discuss a plan for what you should do to make up for what you have done.  This could include an apology, paying money to the victim, working for the victim or the community, a donation to charity, a curfew, counselling training programs and more. Solutions can be creative.

If everyone at the FGC cannot agree on a plan, the FGC ends without your case being resolved.  The police could decide to refer your case to the Youth Court.

If everyone at the FGC agrees to a plan, then you’ll be given a timeframe to complete the plan.  If you don’t complete the plan, the police could refer your case to the Youth Court.  When you complete the plan, the police should close your case, and you will not have a conviction on your record for the incident.

If the case was sent to FGC from the Youth Court, the judge will need to approve the plan first.

What is the Youth Court?

Usually, more serious or repeated offending by 12 to 17 year olds will be dealt with in the Youth Court.
Youth Court hearings are less formal than a regular adult court. For young people who identify as Māori or Pasifika, there are also Rangatahi or Pasifika Youth Courts. The Rangatahi and Pasifika Youth Courts are held in a marae or Pasifika churches/community centres, and follow Maori or Pasifika cultural processes.

There are no “guilty” or “not guilty” pleas or verdicts in the Youth Court. The judge will ask whether you deny the charge or not, and if you “admit” the offending, or if the judge decides you did commit the crime then the offence is “proven” against you.

If you don’t deny it or if the judge decides you did commit the crime, you will likely be sent to an FGC.

What cases does the Youth Court not hear?

The Youth Court does not hear murder and manslaughter cases or cases where the young person chooses to have a jury trial. This is the same for some serious offences like robbery, serious assault or rape – these cases will be transferred to the District or High Court.

The Youth Court also does not hear some minor traffic cases like drink driving or boy racer charges.

What can I expect at a Youth Court hearing?

At the hearing, your Youth Advocate or lawyer will tell the judge if you deny the charge or not, or if you need more time to decide.

If the charge is not denied, the judge will ask for a Family Group Conference (FGC) to be held.

If the charge is denied, the procedure taken will depend on how serious the offence is. In the case of a lesser charge, the judge will set a date for a defended hearing in the Youth Court. Where there is a more serious charge, or if the child or young person wants a jury trial, the judge will set a date for a preliminary Youth Court hearing, but may be transferred to the District Court. If your case stays at the Youth Court, the judge will make a judgment about whether you had or hadn’t done the crime and may send you back to an FGC if they decide you had done the crime.

Will I get a free lawyer at the Youth Court? What is a youth advocate?

If you have to go to the Youth Court, you will be given a free lawyer called a “youth advocate” paid for by the government.

The youth advocate will explain the charge, ask what had happened, discuss with you what the options are, suggest the best way of dealing with the case, and help you and your family during the court process.

Can I choose the youth advocate I want?

Youth advocates are assigned so you can’t choose a specific youth advocate to represent you. If you want a specific lawyer, you or your parents will need to hire that lawyer for a fee.

You also do not have to use the Youth Advocate, and can choose to speak for yourself in court. However, court procedures can be complicated and confusing, and you are probably better off with a Youth Advocate who knows how the Youth Court works. If you prefer to have a male or female Youth Advocate, you should say so on your first appearance.

What is a Rangatahi or Pasifika Youth Court?

The Rangatahi and Pasifika Youth Courts are created to link the justice process for young Maori and Pasifika with their whanau and community. To reduce re-offending, these courts help reconnect young Maori and Pasifika offenders to their culture by using a marae or cultural centre and principles of Tikanga Maori or Pacific culture to resolve matters within the Youth Court legal structure.

What process would I expect at a Rangatahi Court?

Each Rangatahi hearing begins with a powhiri. Before the hearing starts, you’ll receive a direct mihi from a kaumatua, who will show respect to you and acknowledge your whānau and hapū links. This places a responsibility on you to respond with dignity.

Members of the marae and the local community are present, putting you under the guidance of your elders and ancestors. Whānau accompanying you to the hearing are given an opportunity to address the judge and the marae.

The Rangatahi Court encourages whānau to play an active role in monitoring your actions, giving you positive guidance and making sure you reconnect with your roots and culture. Relationships with the community are deepened through tikanga elements including pōwhiri, harirū, sharing kai and whanaungatanga.

What types of decision can the Youth Court make?

If the charge has been proven, or if you admit the charge:

On the less serious end of the scale:

The police may decide not to take the case any further. A formal warning may be given and the case may be discharged unless you break the law again within a certain time period.

On the mid end of the scale:

The Youth Court judge may require you to do something. This might include:

  • returning others’ property;
  • confiscating your property;
  • paying a fine;
  • doing something for the victim to make up for the offending;
  • attending a rehabilitation or mentoring programme;
  • performing community service;
  • disqualification from driving if it involves driving.

You may also be placed under supervision if the judge believes it is necessary, such as having to stay in an MCOT residential facility for a period of time, or having a curfew that is monitored electronically.

In the most serious of offences:

You may be transferred to a youth justice residential facility.
You may be convicted in the Youth Court and then transferred to the District Court for sentencing, or your case will be transferred to the District Court or High Court directly. The difference is that outcomes at adult courts go on your adult criminal record. It will stay on your record even when you’re older, whereas a Youth Court outcome does not go on your adult criminal record.

Can I get a criminal record at the Youth Court?

You will not get a criminal record unless the Youth Court judge decides your case is so serious that they have to transfer your case to an adult court. Outcomes at adult courts go on your criminal record.

At the Youth Court, if you admit to the charge or if your charge has been proven, a conviction and transfer order will be made. These are not entered into your ‘criminal record’. You don’t have to tell people about your Youth Court records, and others will not be able to find out, except in exceptional circumstances.

I’m applying for a job, they’ve asked if I have a Youth Court record, do I have to tell them?

It is up to you whether you tell them about your Youth Court record.

Generally, most employers will not have access to these records. However, some government departments such as the police, army, navy, national security or GCSB-related departments will have access to these records, and you will need to be honest if you are applying for jobs at these government departments. In jobs where children may be involved, if you were found to have committed an offence relating to children at the Youth Court, the vetting may include information regarding you committing an offence at the Youth Court.

How can a Youth Advocate help me?

Before the Hearing

A Youth Advocate is a free lawyer for young people whose cases go to the Youth Court. Your Youth Advocate will tell you what you are being charged with (what the police say you did).  They will ask you what happened and will advise you if you have a defence. Even if you think you are guilty, you might have a legal defence.  This is why it is important to explain your side of the story to the Youth Advocate as clearly as you can. They will explain to you what is likely to happen if you admit the charge, or deny the charge and have it proven against you.

What you tell your Youth Advocate is confidential.  The Youth Advocate should not tell other people the information you have given them about what happened unless you agree.

During the Hearing

When you’re in court, the Youth Advocate will speak to the judge for you. Sometimes the judge will ask you a question directly – you should answer politely. The judge may say that you have to attend a Family Group Conference’ and if that happens, your Youth Advocate will generally go with you.

Your Youth Advocate is there to represent you and help you. Make sure they understand what you’re saying about what had happened. If you have any questions about your court case, make sure to ask your Youth Advocate.

Where else can I get help from if I’m a young person charged with a crime?

Community Law Centres (CLCs) are community-based legal offices which provide legal help for people in their area or group. They offer legal advice and some will arrange for one of their lawyers to represent you at court where possible.  CLCs sometimes ask people to make a contribution towards their costs, but if you are not working, you should not be asked to pay anything.

Call YouthLaw or check out the Community Law Centre website for information about a centre near you.

What is a Lay Advocate?

If you want, you can also have a Lay Advocate support you at Youth Court. This can be, for example, a kaumatua, kuia, matai, church elder, youth worker or teacher. A Lay Advocate must be approved by the Youth Court Judge before they can support you in court, but the judge is likely to approve anyone who has standing or respect in your community. Lay Advocates can be paid by the government to cover some of their expenses.

The Lay Advocate can tell the court about cultural matters relevant to your case. You can have both a Youth Advocate and a Lay Advocate. Remember that it is up to you or your family or your Youth Advocate to arrange for the Lay Advocate to attend court.

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