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 an offence (including the offender and the victim) to make decisions and agree on an outcome plan about how the offender can make up for their offence. 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.

Group conferencing is also intended to help the offender accept responsibility for their offence, to help keep young people away from further involvement in the criminal justice system, and to reintegrate young people into the community following an offence. It is a voluntary scheme in which the young person has a say in whether to choose group conferencing as one alternative to put to the court.

Who is eligible for a group conference?

Referral to group conferencing by the Children’s Court is available for young people (from age 10 up until the age of 17) who have:

  • pleaded guilty or been found guilty of offences that do not include homicide, manslaughter or sex offences;
  • committed offences serious enough to warrant a probation or youth supervision order to be considered by the court;
  • agreed to participate; and
  • been assessed as suitable to participate in a Group Conference by the Department of Human Services.

In deciding whether a young person is suitable to participate in a Group Conference, the Department of Human Services will consider the following:

  • their acceptance of their role in the offence, their level of remorse, and their awareness of, and feeling towards, the victim;
  • safety issues and/or special needs of the young person including intellectual ability, drug or alcohol use and cultural values; and
  • how they communicate with others and how this might impact on their participation in the group conference.

How does the court decide that I need to attend a conference?

If the Children’s Court is considering imposing a sentence of probation or a youth supervision order, the Court may defer sentencing and order that the young person participate in a youth justice group conference. The Court may defer sentencing for a period not exceeding 4 months.

How does a group conference affect my sentence?

When sentencing the offender, the Court will take into account the contents of the outcome plan and the extent to which the offender has complied with the plan.  A successful conference and compliance with the outcome plan can result in diversion of the young person from a Supervisory Court Order.

Who can attend a group conference?

A group conference must be attended by:

  • the young person who has committed the offence;
  • their legal representative;
  • the police informant (who brought the charges); and
  • the conference convenor (who runs the conference).

In addition, a group conference may be attended by:

  • the young person’s family;
  • persons of significance to the young person;
  • the victim and/or their representative;
  • any other person permitted to attend by the Convenor (this could include community members and family and/or support persons of the victim where appropriate).

What happens at the group conference?

The conference provides all people involved, in particular the young person who committed the offence and the victim, the chance to tell their story and talk about how the offence has affected them. At the end of this discussion, the people involved suggest how the young person might repair the harm caused to the victim, and decide on an outcome plan.

Recommendations from the conference could include that the offender participate in education, employment or counselling programs or take steps to repair the damage done by the offence (e.g. by making an apology to the victim, paying for the damage or making a donation).

What can result from a conference?

Upon conclusion of the conference, the Convenor will prepare a report for the Court including the outcome plan. They will discuss the report with the young person and their lawyer. If the Court accepts the outcome plan, the convenor will contact the young person and a community representative to help the young person implement the outcome plan. It is the responsibility of the young person and their support group to implement the outcome plan.

In determining a sentence, the Court will take into account:

  • the desirability of letting the young person live at home and attend school or work;
  • the suitability of the sentence; and
  • the need to protect the community.

If the young person participated in the conference and agreed to the group conference plan, the Court must impose a sentence less severe than it would have imposed had they not participated in a group conference.

What happens if I fail to participate in a group conference?

If the young person fails to attend the conference without reasonable excuse, the Convenor will report their lack of participation to the Court in writing. This will be taken into account upon sentencing. However, the Court cannot impose a sentence that is more severe than it would have imposed had sentencing not been deferred.

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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