The youth justice system is the set of processes and practices for managing children and young people who have committed or allegedly committed an offence. Each state and territory in Australia has its own youth justice legislation, policies, and practices. However, the general processes by which young people are charged and sentenced, and the types of legal orders available to the courts, are similar.
Young people can be charged with a criminal offence if they are aged 10 or over. There are separate justice systems for young people and adults. The upper age limit for treatment under the youth system is 17 (at the time of the offence) in all states and territories. Legislation to increase Queensland’s age limit to 17 was passed in November 2016, and enacted in February 2018. This has, in part, led to a rise in the number of young people supervised by youth justice in Queensland and nationally.
Some people aged 18 and over are also involved in the youth justice system. This can occur when:
• the young person committed the offence when aged 17 or under
• supervision is continued once the young person turns 18
• the young person is particularly vulnerable or immature.
Also, in Victoria, some people aged 18–20 may be sentenced to detention in a youth facility under the state’s ‘dual track’ sentencing system (also see Glossary).
Young people generally first make contact with the youth justice system when police investigate them for allegedly committing a crime. Legal action taken by police may include court actions (the laying of charges to be answered in court) and non-court actions (such as cautions, conferencing, counselling, or infringement notices).
A court may decide to dismiss a charge, divert the young person from further involvement in the system (for example, by referral to other services), or transfer them to specialist courts or programs. If the matter proceeds and the charge is proven, the court may hand down various orders, either supervised or unsupervised.
SOURCE: AIHW. “Youth Justice in Australia 2017–18” AIHW,
Produced by the librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia