Youth justice conferences

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Youth justice conferences are more serious than formal cautions, but less serious than court proceedings.

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What is the aim of the conference?

The purpose of a conference is for the people involved in a crime (including the offender and the victim) to make decisions about how the offender can make up for their crime. For example, the people at the conference might:

  • agree that the offender will do community service,
  • attend a rehabilitation program or
  • write an apology to the victim.   

This is an alternative to going to court.

These types of punishments are intended to promote the development of the young offender within their family group, to be the option that gives you the most freedom that is appropriate in the circumstances, and to help the offender accept responsibility for their offences.

Who is eligible for a youth conference?

You will be eligible to attend a youth justice conference:

  • for any of the offences covered by the Young Offenders Act 1997 (NSW) (see the Youth Justice homepage to find a list of these);
  • if a caution is considered not serious enough by the investigating police officer;
  • if you admit to the offence; and
  • if you agree to having a conference.   

The matter is then referred to a specialist youth police officer, who decides whether the matter is appropriate to be dealt with by a conference rather than a caution or going to court.

How does an officer decide that I need to attend a conference?

When the specialist youth police officer is deciding whether the matter should be dealt with by a caution, conference or court, they will consider:

  • how serious the offence was;
  • the seriousness of any violence;
  • the harm caused to the victim;
  • the number and types of crimes you have previously committed; and
  • anything else the officer thinks is relevant.

You can still go to a youth justice conference even if you have committed other offences before or been given a warning or caution or have attended a youth justice conference before.

Who can attend a conference?

The people who are allowed to attend the conference are:

  • the offender;
  • the offender’s parent or carer;
  • members of the offender’s family;
  • an adult chosen by the offender;
  • the offender’s lawyer;
  • the police officer who investigated the crime;
  • a specialist youth police officer;
  • the victim or a person chosen by the victim to represent them;
  • a support person for the victim; and
  • sometimes a police officer who is in training.  

Other people may attend if necessary, such as an interpreter, a community member, a school representative or a disability or social worker.

The conference is run by a youth justice conference convenor, who is a community member that does not work for the police or the court.

Who runs a conference?

The conference is not run by the police but by a convenor appointed by a conference administrator.

Before it takes place, the convenor must speak to the child, the victim, and everyone else involved. The convenor must also give the child a notice outlining the details of the conference, such as the offence for which the conference is held, the date, time and place of the conference, the right to legal advice and the consequences of not attending the conference, amongst other things.

What happens at a conference?

A conference convenor must conduct a conference in a way that best helps it to reach an agreement about an outcome plan in relation to the child and the offence.  The convenor can run the conference in a way he or she thinks is suitable for the people attending.

What can result from a conference?

The purpose of the conference is to reach an outcome plan for the young offender that must be agreed to by both the victim and the young offender. The young offender and the victim (if the victim attends the conference) have to agree to the plan before it is finalised.  If no plan can be agreed on, the matter will go back to the police to consider (or back to the Court, if it was the Court that ordered you to attend a conference).

Decisions and recommendations contained in the outcome plan could be:

  • an apology;
  • voluntary community work; or
  • participation in a program.  

When the outcome plan is completed, that is the end of the matter – there can be no additional criminal proceedings against the young offender.  If the outcome plan is not completed, the young offender may still be charged with the crime and be required to go to court.

What happens if I end up not wanting to attend a conference?

You can change your mind about going to a conference before the conference starts.   If you do this, your offence will be dealt with by the Court. Police can also change their decision about sending you to a conference any time before the conference starts and decide instead to give you a caution or decide that the matter should be dealt with by the Court.  

Will the conference be recorded?

If a conference is held, it must be recorded. This will appear on the young offender’s ‘court alternatives history’ and may be seen by the Children’s Court if it deals with the young person for further offences.   This record does not form a part of the young person’s criminal history – and it may not be taken into account by an adult court.  

Will I have to tell a future employer about a youth justice conference?

You will have to tell future employers if you apply for certain jobs where you are asked to state your criminal history.  These jobs are: if you apply to be a judge, police officer, prison officer, teacher, teacher’s aide, a provider of child care services or if you apply for a job working directly with children. It will also be taken into account if the offence you attended the conference for was arson and you are seeking a job as a firefighter.

If you’re under 25 and you’ve been accused of a crime and want to know what could happen, please contact us here and we can give you free advice and information. Everything you tell us will be kept confidential.

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