Before the Youth Court

Most young people who get in trouble with the law don’t come to the Youth Court. The Youth Court only deals with criminal offending by children and young people that is too serious to be dealt with by the Police in the community.

Offenders aged 10 to 13 years old are called child offenders. Child offenders are generally dealt with in the Family Court on the basis that their offending is caused by lack of parental care and protection.

Child offenders aged 12 and 13 can be dealt with in the Youth Court if the offence they are charged with carries a maximum penalty of at least 14 years’ imprisonment (or 10 years’ imprisonment and they have previously offended in a serious way).

Offenders aged 14 to 16 years old are called youth offenders. They are dealt with by the youth justice system, which can include being charged in the Youth Court.

Community-based diversion process

Most young people are dealt with by the Police without ever going to the Youth Court. This could mean getting a Police warning, or being referred to Police Youth Aid for what’s called ‘Alternative Action’.

Alternative Action means the young person, their family and the Police decide on a plan to deal with the offending.

An Alternative Action plan can include things like:

  • paying for damage
  • doing community work
  • going to counselling
  • writing an apology letter
  • attending school every day
  • doing an assignment about the effects of their offending

Watch a video to find out more about this process (external link)

Family group conference

If the Police are deciding whether to charge a young person with a crime, they will hold a Family Group Conference. Police can only arrest a child or young person in very limited circumstances. If the child or young person is arrested for serious offending, sometimes the Police will charge the young person first and then a Family Group Conference will be held after the young person has appeared in Youth Court.

Find out more about Family Group Conferences on the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki website (external link)