The Young Offenders Act 1993 establishes the criminal jurisdiction for all youths in South Australia and defines a youth as a person of or above the age of ten years but under the age of eighteen years. The objective of this Act “is to secure for youths who offend against the criminal law the care, correction, and guidance necessary for their development into responsible and useful members of the community as well as the proper realisation of their potential”.

The Act allows for juvenile offenders to be dealt with by the Youth Court or through diversionary mechanisms, such as a Family Conference.

In criminal matters the police decide how an offence will be dealt with in the first instance. The options available are a Police Caution, referral to a Family Conference or laying an information in the Youth Court.

The Judge and magistrates of the Youth Court can hear any matter relating to criminal offending, including major indictable offences. Following a guilty plea or, if the matter proceeds to trial, a finding of guilt, the Court may choose not to impose a penalty, or can impose any of the following outcomes:

  • Detention for a period of up to 3 years;
  • Home detention for a period of up to 12 months;
  • Detention for a period of up to 2 years followed by home detention for a period of up to 12 months;
  • An obligation to be of good behaviour;
  • A community service order;
  • An order than compensation be paid to the victim;
  • Licence disqualification (for motor vehicle related offences); or
  • A fine

The Court may also order that the youth pay the court costs and victims of crime levy.

Where the Court has imposed a sentence of detention, the judicial officer may decide to suspend that sentence upon the youth entering into an obligation to be of good behaviour. Failure to comply with that obligation may then revoke that suspension.

If the young offender has admitted guilt, the Court may refer a criminal matter to the Conferencing Unit or back to police for a Formal Caution to be issued if it decides that this is the most appropriate way to deal with the offence.

When a matter has been referred to the Conferencing Unit, either by police or by the Court, the Conferencing Unit will then arrange for a Family Conference to be conducted. If the youth fails to appear at the Family Conference, at the Conference does not admit to the charge, or does not agree to the outcomes of a Family Conference, the matter will be referred back to the Youth Court where the presiding judicial officer will have the same sentencing powers as a Family Conference.

If the youth has agreed to the outcome of the Family Conference but then fails to comply with that outcome, the matter may be referred back to the police to lay the charge in the Court.

When dealing with young offenders, the Court must ensure that the youth understands what is happening during the hearing and advise them how and where to obtain legal advice. For more information, contact the Legal Services Commission or the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement.