What to expect at Youth Court
Sometimes, a Family Group Conference is held before the child or young person comes to Court to decide whether the matter can be dealt with by Alternative Action, or whether a charge needs to be laid in the Youth Court. These are run by The Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki and include input from Police, the victim, the child or young person and their family/whānau.
If the Family Group Conference decides that a charge should be laid in Court, the child or young person will be given a time and date to appear in Court for the first time.
Sometimes, a child or young person can be charged directly in Court if they have been arrested.
At the Youth Court
Young people who go to the Youth Court have what is called a hearing. This is where the young person goes into the Court and the Judge hears their case. The young person must have a lawyer with them at their hearing. The Court will appoint a specialist youth lawyer called a Youth Advocate for free. However, the young person can also choose to pay for their own lawyer if they want to.
The Youth Advocate will contact the young person and their family/whānau before the hearing to talk about it and what to expect.
The Court may appoint a Lay Advocate to support the young person and their whānau/family 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 as well as representing the family’s views.
Te reo Māori, sign language and other languages
The young person or their parent, guardian or caregiver can talk in te reo Māori or any other language, including sign language.
Tell your Youth Advocate, lawyer or Lay Advocate if you want to speak another language and they’ll arrange an interpreter with the Court for free.
Who to bring to court
Young people will have their Youth Advocate or lawyer with them, and may have a Lay Advocate. They can also have family/whānau or other support people with them in the Court.
What happens in the court room
Youth Court hearings are less formal than an adult court - for example the judge will call the young person by their first name and the court room is usually arranged in a way that encourages people to talk.
Because the public can't be inside the Youth Court, the young person and their family/whānau only come into the court room when their name is called for the hearing.
When their hearing starts, the young person will be asked by the judge whether or not they deny what the Police says they did.
If they deny
If they disagree with what the Police say they did, that’s called denying the charge.
If they deny the charge the judge will tell them a date to come back for a defended hearing (this is called an adjournment).
At the defended hearing, the Police will have to try to convince the Judge that the young person did commit the offence.
If the Police do not prove the offence, the case will be dismissed and the young person’s Court case is finished.
If the Police do prove that the young person committed the offence, the young person and their family/whānau will have to go through a Family Group Conference to decide a plan for how the young person can take responsibility for what they did, as well as working out how to make sure the young person doesn’t offend again.
If they agree
If the young person agrees with what the Police say happened, their case is sent to a youth justice coordinator. The coordinator will arrange a Family Group Conference to make a plan for how the young person can take responsibility for what they did, as well as working out how to make sure the young person doesn’t offend again.
Find out more about Family Group Conferences on the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki website (external link)
What happens next
The Judge will review the plan that was made at the Family Group Conference and the young person will come back to Court regularly so the Judge can ensure they’re completing the plan.
If the young person follows the plan
If the young person completes the plan that was developed at the Family Group Conference, the Judge will decide which Youth Court order is appropriate. There are lots of different options. These include:
- A discharge as if the charge had never been laid. This means the young person has no criminal record and can enter adult life with a clean slate, a second chance.
- An Order being made such as:
- A discharge that is noted on the young person’s record;
- An order to come to Court to be sentenced if called upon within one year;
- Disqualification from driving;
- Community work;
- Youth justice residence (youth prison); and
- Conviction and transfer to the District Court for sentencing.
If the young person doesn’t follow the plan
If the young person doesn’t follow or complete the plan, the young person will probably receive a more serious order than they would have if they followed the plan.
Help to understand what’s going on
The Youth Court process can be confusing.
Whenever you have questions you can contact your Youth Advocate or Lay Advocate (the person who’s appointed to support you and your family).