This chapter presents information about defendants finalised in the criminal jurisdiction of the Children's Courts during 2009-10. This jurisdiction specifically deals with juvenile offenders charged with summary criminal offences, and in some states and territories those charged with indictable offences. The power of the Children's Court to hear serious criminal matters varies across states and territories.
In all states and territories, children aged under 10 years cannot be charged with a criminal offence. The maximum age that defendants are considered a child or juvenile is under the age of 18 years in all states and territories, except in Queensland where defendants are considered adults if aged 17 years and over at the time the offence was committed. Note that the age of defendants in the Children's Courts data are based on age at finalisation in the courts, not age at the time of the alleged offence. Therefore, some defendants of adult age will be processed by the Children's Courts and included in the collection.
Children's Courts data presented here exclude cases such as bail reviews and applications to amend sentences or penalties which do not require the adjudication of charges. Also excluded are breach of bail or parole cases, appeal cases, tribunal matters and defendants for whom a bench warrant is issued but not executed.
The offence categories referred to relate to the principal offence, i.e. the most serious offence type with which the defendant was charged. For more information about principal offence (see paragraphs 40-44 of the Explanatory Notes).
National data for the Children's Courts are only available from 2006-07.
Juvenile justice is a complex area that can involve a range of bodies such as police, courts, juvenile justice departments, legal advocates and young people and their families. A key feature of juvenile justice is the diversion of young people away from the formal criminal justice system. Not all young people who come into contact with the criminal justice authorities will appear in court. Police and other non-court agencies can divert juvenile offenders away from the courts by way of warnings, cautions, conferences, and other programs. Pre-court contact with juveniles may vary considerably across jurisdictions and therefore could potentially impact on the number of juvenile defendants who appear in court and the duration of their cases.
Furthermore, the Children's Courts can also initiate programs as part of the court process by transferring defendants to drug and other specialist courts, or non-court agencies, and programs where defendants return to the Children's Court upon program completion. Some defendants may be referred to a program as a sentencing outcome. There can be many differences in the types of court programs or sentencing options available in each state and territory, therefore caution should be used when making comparisons between states and territories.
- There were 41,275 defendants finalised in the Children's Courts in 2009-10, a decrease of 2% (923) from 2008-09.
- Males accounted for 79% (32,663) of the total defendants finalised in 2009-10.
- The majority (78% or 31,990) of all finalised defendants were proven guilty, 4% (1,479) were acquitted and 19% (7,806) were finalised either through the withdrawal of charges by the prosecution, transfers to other courts or via other non-adjudicated finalisations.
- Of the 33,469 defendants whose charges were adjudicated, 96% were proven guilty, while the remainder (4%) were acquitted.
- For those defendants proven guilty, the majority (90% or 28,802) were sentenced to non-custodial orders.