Committal proceedings

If a charge involves death (murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, child homicide, defensive homicide, culpable driving causing death, arson causing death) it must be heard in an adult court (i.e. the Supreme Court) by a judge and jury. For other serious (indictable charges)if the young person (or, in limited circumstances, the parents) so desires, or if the magistrate decides by reason of exceptional circumstances that it is appropriate for the case to be decided by a judge and jury the matters may be heard in the County Court (s 356 CYF Act).

If that happens, committal proceedings will usually take place in the Children’s Court. The object of committal proceedings is for the magistrate to decide whether there is enough evidence to support a finding of guilt against the young person. If so, the magistrate will commit the young person for trial.

At trial, the evidence will again be heard, but a jury will decide whether or not the young person is guilty. Very few young people are committed for trial to a higher court.

A magistrate can decide, against a young person’s wishes, that a matter should proceed as a committal, but only if exceptional circumstances exist. In the case of A Child v A Magistrate of the Children’s Court (unreported, 24 February 1992), a Supreme Court judge decided that the importation on three occasions of a large amount of heroin by a 16-year-old amounted to “exceptional circumstances”. However, he said that the Children’s Court should only give up its jurisdiction “with great reluctance”, and he defined exceptional as “very unusual”.

In committal proceedings, it is usual for only the prosecution evidence to be given. The young person’s lawyer is allowed to question the prosecution witnesses. It is unusual for the young person to give evidence at this stage, and this should not be done unless a lawyer has advised it.

If the magistrate does commit the matter for trial, the young person will either be released on bail or held in custody until the trial takes place.