The Children’s Court of Victoria has jurisdiction under the CYF Act to hear cases involving children and young people up to the age of 18 years, and some cases, up to 19 years.
The Children’s Court has two main divisions:
1 the Family Division;
2 the Criminal Division.
The Family Division of the Children’s Court has jurisdiction to hear a range of applications and to make a variety of orders upon finding that a child needs protection, or that there are irreconcilable differences between a child and their parents (where the differences seriously disrupt the care and control of the child). In the Family Division, the court also has the power to hear applications relating to intervention orders under the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) and the Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act 2010 (Vic) where the “affected family member” (family violence matters) or “affected person” (personal safety matters) or the respondent, is a child. (See also “Incest and family violence” in Young people’s rights and responsibilities.)
The Criminal Division of the Children’s Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine summarily all offences (other than offences resulting in death) where the alleged offender was under the age of 18, but of or above the age of 10 years, at the time the offence was committed, and under the age of 19 when proceedings commenced in the court.
When charges arise from death – murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, child homicide, defensive homicide, culpable driving causing death, and arson causing death – committal proceedings are conducted in the Children’s Court, then the matter is heard in the County or Supreme Court, depending on the charge.
However, legislative changes introduced in 2018 mean that many serious offences that would have been heard in the Children’s Court are likely to now be heard in the County Court instead. These serious offences include intentionally causing serious injury in circumstances of gross violence, aggravated home invasion, aggravated carjacking, and acts of terrorism.
Also, at the time of writing (1 July 2019), it is anticipated that within the next year there will be a new Act of Parliament dealing with criminal cases against children and the youth justice system.
Fines issued to young people (e.g. for failing to produce a valid ticket on public transport or for not wearing a bike helmet) by an infringement notice can be dealt with in the Children’s Court by the Children and Young Persons Infringement Notice System (CAYPINS). CAYPINS is a method of enforcing infringement notices when the fine is not paid in the first instance. (For adults, infringement notices are enforceable through the Infringements Court system; see Fines and infringements.)
The aim of CAYPINS is to enable flexible and discrete decision-making that takes into account a child’s age and personal and financial circumstances.
The Children’s Koori Court has jurisdiction to hear matters relating to criminal offending (other than sexual offences) by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children. The Children’s Koori Court is a sentencing court; the goal of this court is to exercise sentencing options that are culturally appropriate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in the hope of reducing the rate of reoffending. An Elder or “respected person” attends the court to give the judge or magistrate cultural advice.
The Children’s Koori Court is not as formal as the mainstream Children’s Court, so any person within the courtroom – the young person charged with the offence, their family, the Elder, the Koori Court Officer – can have their say.
To go to the Children’s Koori Court, a young person must be pleading guilty or have been found guilty. The young person must also want their case to be heard in the Children’s Koori Court.
The Children’s Koori Court is currently sitting at Melbourne Children’s Court, Bairnsdale, Dandenong, Hamilton, Heidelberg, Latrobe Valley (Morwell), Mildura, Portland, Shepparton, Swan Hill and Warrnambool.
The Neighbourhood Justice Centre’s (NJC) court sits as a Children’s Court (the Criminal Division) on the first Friday of each month.
The NJC court has jurisdiction to hear matters relating to people who live in the City of Yarra.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a strong connection to the area may also have their cases heard at the NJC if it is alleged they committed an offence within the City of Yarra.
Homeless people can also have their cases heard at the NJC, if the alleged offence took place in the City of Yarra or if the person is living in short-term accommodation in the City of Yarra.
For the NJC’s contact details, see “Contacts”.