Last updated 18 April 2017
Open and closed courts
The Childrens Court is open to the public when dealing with criminal matters, whether presided over by a magistrate or a judge unless:
- the child is a first-time offender (a child who has not previously been found guilty of an offence in court)
- the court approves an application requesting that the court to be closed
- the court decides on its own initiative that the court be closed.
If the court is closed it must then exclude from the room anyone who does not have a direct interest in the case (e.g. a prosecutor, a defence lawyer, a parent, witnesses or a youth justice officer).
The court can give permission for specific people with an interest in the proceedings to be in court (e.g. an academic doing relevant research or a member of the media).
However, no-one can publish information which would identify the child.
The Childrens Court is closed to the public when hearing child protection matters.
Publication of identifying information
Whilst the public may sit in the public gallery of a Childrens Court, it is a criminal offence to publish information that might identify a child defendant unless:
- the chief executive is satisfied that it is necessary to ensure a person’s safety and has given a person written authority to do so
- the child has been sentenced to life imprisonment under s 176(3)(b) of the Youth Justice Act 1992 (Qld) (Youth Justice Act), and the court believes it would be in the interests of justice to do so bearing in mind issues such as:
- the need to protect the community in general or individual people
- the impact of publication on the child.
The maximum penalty for publication without authority is currently $11 780 or two years imprisonment for an individual and $117 800 for a corporation (s 301 Youth Justice Act).
Role of youth justice services
The Chief Executive of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General (DJAG) is not generally a party to the proceedings but is entitled to be heard in relation to adjournments, remand/bail, sentencing orders, publication prohibition orders, the closure of the court to the public and any other matters the court considers to be relevant (s 74 Youth Justice Act).
In practice this means that a youth justice officer from DJAG attends court. Before a child defendant appears in court, this officer will usually interview them and attempt to establish factors contributing to the child’s offending behaviour. It is the policy of DJAG not to interview a child regarding the details of an offence prior to the child discussing it with a legal representative.
The Department of Justice and Attorney-General can apply for, or support, a remand (dealing with the case on another day) to allow:
- a parent to be in court
- a child to be legally represented
- an interpreter to be in court
- a child’s identity or age to be determined
- a pre-sentence report to be written.
The role of DJAG with respect to submissions about bail will usually be limited to welfare issues such as accommodation. It does not address a child’s general suitability for bail.
Issues concerning the likelihood of re-offending or failing to appear are matters for the prosecution and defence. The court therefore does usually not take submissions from DJAG staff in relation to possible bail conditions such as curfews, reporting to police, or forbidding contact with a complainant or co-accused.
Conditional bail programs are often prepared by DJAG in circumstances where a child is highly unlikely to comply with bail conditions without substantial intervention.
In general, DJAG is not required to argue that a child receives a particular sentence order. It is required, however, that DJAG provide the court with a range of alternative orders, together with information about the nature and suitability of each.
Breach of supervised orders
A youth justice officer has to act in a prosecuting role in relation to the following as they are responsible for the administration of community-based sentences and deal with:
- breaches of community service, probation and intensive supervision orders
- complaints regarding non-compliance with conditional release and supervised release orders
- variation, discharge or resentence of probation and community service orders
- variation or revocation of a conditional release order.
These applications are made formally in writing with accompanying affidavits and may be defended by the child.
The Youth Justice Act supports the involvement of parents in any proceedings where their child is a defendant, irrespective of the child’s wishes, and anticipates that a parent will be present in court.
Generally, courts will not deal with a matter of a child under 17 unless the parent is present. A court can adjourn a proceeding to enable a parent to be present, and can recommend the department meet a parent’s travel expenses (s 69 Youth Justice Act). The court can also order a parent to attend, and it is then an offence for the parent not to (the maximum penalty is currently $5890) (s 70 Youth Justice Act).
If a parent cannot attend, it may be useful for the parent to write a letter to the court explaining the difficulties and providing a phone number they can be contacted on.
Parents have the right to be in court, and they are to be given full opportunity to be heard and participate in the proceedings (s 72 Youth Justice Act).
The court must ensure that the parent understands:
- the nature of the offence alleged to have been committed by the child
- the court’s procedures
- the consequences of any order that may be made (s 72(2) Youth Justice Act).
Where a parent is absent and a finding or an order is made against a child, the parent can apply to have the order set aside, and the court can order this if it considers it is in the interests of justice to do so (e.g. where the child’s capacity to make decision relating to the proceeding was adversely affected by the parent’s absence (s 71 Youth Justice Act)). The application must be made within 28 days of the original decision and, if successful, the matter must be heard afresh. There may, therefore, be significant consequences for a child.
If a parent is absent, a court will usually ask a child if their parents know about the proceedings and if they want the matter remanded so that the parents may be present. If the child elects to proceed, the answers to these questions are recorded and could be referred to by a parent in requesting an order be set aside.