Adjournment, sentence deferral and group conferencing are mechanisms used by the magistrate to maximise the information before the Court before sentencing and as a way to decrease the young offenders likelihood of re-offending.The magistrate may adjourn a case (i.e. put off the case to be heard another day) for a number of reasons.
Before deciding what sentence is appropriate, the magistrate may adjourn the case and ask for a report. This may be prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Youth Justice service (s 571 CYFA), or the Children’s Court Clinic.
Reports usually take between three and six weeks to prepare, during which time the young person may be allowed to go home, although some bail conditions may be set. A young person who is to stay in custody will be taken to a remand centre.
If the court considers that it is in the child’s best interests to defer sentencing, it may do so for a period of up to four months. The case is adjourned to a fixed date. The magistrate may request that a pre-sentence report be prepared. The period of deferral is usually ordered to allow the young person to take steps to address the issues that led to their offending behaviour. The court may also defer sentencing to allow the young person to participate in a group conference. The court will sentence the young person at the end of the deferral period, taking into account any progress the young person may have made during that time.
The Group Conferencing Program operates as a pre-sentence option. Group conferencing aims to help the young person avoid further or more serious offending. The group conferencing process attempts to strengthen the young person’s family and community supports and identifies ways of making amends for the harm caused by the offending behaviour. Group conferencing also gives the victim the opportunity to explain the affect the crime has had on them.
Group conferencing is for young people referred by the Children’s Court who have:
•pleaded guilty or have been found guilty of offences that do not include sex offences;
•committed offences serious enough to warrant a probation or youth supervision order to be considered by the court;
•consented to participate;
•been assessed as suitable by a youth justice officer of the DHHS.
A group conference is attended by:
•the young person;
•their family and/or supports;
•the young person’s legal representative;
•the victim and/or their representative;
•the victim’s family and/or supports;
•police informant (the police officer who laid the charge(s));
•community members; and
At the conference the participants discuss what happened and agree on an outcome plan, which details what needs to be done to make amends for the harm caused by the offence. The convenor then writes a report that explains what happened in the conference, and this is presented to the Children’s Court.
Recommendations from the conference could include:
•assistance and support for the young person in such areas as education, skill development, employment and counselling;
•ways of dealing with the offence – this could mean that the young person apologises, pays for all or part of damage caused, or makes a donation.
When deciding on an appropriate sentence, the court will take into account the contents of the group conference outcome plan.