Young people’s civil liability
Contracts and leases
The general rule is that a young person under the age of 18 is not bound by a An agreement that the law will enforce.. However, it is possible to be bound by a contract for things that are necessary for survival (e.g. food, housing, medical services). To find out whether a contract that has been signed by a young person is binding or not, see ‘Young people’, in Chapter 7.1: How contract law works.
Some traders A document that sets out what a person wants to happen to their money and other property after they die. allow a young person to enter into a contract for goods or services if the young person has a guarantor. A guarantor is someone over 18 who can be sued if the person fails to pay. For more information about being a guarantor, see ‘Guarantees’, in Chapter 5.8: Mortgages, Under the Australian Consumer Law, a person who buys goods or services for less than $40 000 or for personal or home use. leases and other finance products.
A young person under the age of 18 can rent a flat or house and can sign a A document that sets out an agreement between a landlord and a tenant for the renting out of property, or for the use of other personal property such as a car.. More importantly, if the rent is not paid or damage is caused to the property, that person can be sued by the landlord. This is because housing is a necessary item for survival. For more information about leases and The agreement between a landlord and a tenant for the rental of a property. problems, see Chapter 6.1: Tenancy.
In general, children are liable for the consequences of their wrongful acts, but the degree of reasonable care required of them depends on that normally expected of children of like age, intelligence and experience.
In the case of a very young child in a An act that breaches a duty to take reasonable care and results in loss or damage to another person. See also tort. action, or where a particular state of mind (e.g. A desire to cause harm to someone, in a criminal act of by defamation.) is required, the child may be aware of what they are doing and may know that the action is wrong, but still be incapable of foreseeing its consequences. In such a case there would be no Legal responsibility, enforced by civil or criminal courts. in negligence.
In the case of McHale v Watson  HCA 64, a 12-year-old boy threw a metal dart at a post, but it glanced off the post and hit a nine-year-old girl in the eye. He was found to be not negligent as a boy of his age could not be expected to foresee that the dart would not stick into the post.
The The ability to understand and be held responsible by the law for your actions. It also refers to a person’s ability to understand and agree to something, such as to undergo medical treatment. Full legal capacity is reached at 18 years of age, when a child becomes an adult. of a child is to be considered and decided in each case. Obviously, the closer a child is to the age of 18, the more the standard of care resembles that required of an adult.
Normally parents are not liable for wrongful acts committed by their children. However, parents may be liable if the child was acting as the parents’ A person who acts for someone else. They can make decisions, carry out tasks or make agreements for the other person. For example, if you ask someone to bid for you at an auction they will be acting as your agent. or with their authority. Or where a parent has not exercised proper control over or supervision of the child, which resulted in a civil wrong being committed.
In McHale v Watson (see above) the defendant’s father was not considered to be liable – even assuming that he had given the boy the dart – as the boy was old enough to handle the dart and could reasonably be expected to use it safely. The eventual misuse of the dart was not reasonably foreseeable as far as the father was concerned. Of course, the result may well have been different if the child had been eight or nine years old, or if the father had provided him with a gun or other dangerous object.
If a child’s parents know their child has vicious or uncontrollable tendencies, the parents have a much stricter liability for control.
Court proceedings about a civil dispute (not a criminal case). guardians
A An adult who acts in court for a child or person with an intellectual disability. A litigation guardian must pay for the costs of the court action if it is unsuccessful. See also McKenzie Friend; next friend. is an adult who acts in An independent body that hears legal claims brought by parties and decides between them. Serious cases are heard by a judge and jury, or just a judge. Less-serious cases are heard by a magistrate. for a young person under the age of 18. The litigation guardian’s name appears on the court documents and they A binding promise made as reassurance that another person will carry out their legal obligations (e.g. paying a debt). The person making the promise is called a guarantor. If the person being guaranteed fails to pay, the guarantor becomes responsible for the debt. to pay any The amount charged by a lawyer for legal work. Lawyers can only charge the amount agreed with the client in a costs agreement or the amount stated by a court in its rules. The party who loses a case usually has to pay all their own costs plus most of the costs reasonably incurred by the other side. See also indemnity costs.. Usually a young person’s parent or legal Someone who is legally responsible for taking care of another person or their property. acts as their litigation guardian.
It doesn’t matter whether a young person under 18 is the A person who begins a civil action against another person. (i.e. a person who brings a A court case in which one person or organisation sues another for compensation, or for some other court order. This is different from a criminal case, where the police bring criminal charges and the court may give the defendant a penalty, such as time in prison, if they are found guilty. Also called a lawsuit, a civil claim, a civil matter or a proceeding. against another person), or if they are the A person who has been charged with a criminal offence or against whom a civil action has been brought. (i.e. a person against whom a civil action is brought), they need a litigation guardian.
Serving a person under 18
A (1) A formal legal document in in the Queen’s name, commanding a person to do or refrain from doing some act. (2)The document that starts a court action. It is issued by the court at the request of a plaintiff, and given to the other party so they know there is a legal claim against them. See also summons. may be served on a person under 18 by serving it on their parent or guardian.
A court order for money to be paid to someone to compensate them for a loss suffered as a result of a civil wrong or breach of contract. For example, a person who caused a serious permanent injury to another person can be ordered by the court to pay damages that compensate the injured person for their loss of income from being unable to work. See also aggravated damages; compensatory damages; general damages; liquidated damages; nominal damages; special damages.
If a person under 18 receives damages (e.g. for injuries) the money will be paid to the court until they are 18. Payments can be advanced for education and other reasons the court thinks are in the young person’s interests.
Under section 100(5) of the Magistrates’ Court A written law made by parliament. Also called an ‘Act of parliament’, ‘statute’ or legislation. 1989 (Vic), a person under the age of 18 may proceed before a Magistrates’ Court for the recovery of any sum of money payable to the young person under a contract of Formal delivery of legal documents to a person to tell them there are court proceedings against them which they must defend, or to make sure a witness in a case knows when they have to go to court to give evidence. or a contract for services.
Young people’s criminal liability
Children under 10
It is conclusively presumed that a child younger than 10 years old cannot commit a criminal A criminal act prohibited by state or commonwealth criminal law. An offence is either a summary offence (minor) or an indictable offence (serious). (s 344 CYF Act).
Children under 14
For a child younger than 14 to be found guilty of a criminal offence, the The party presenting evidence in court on behalf of the state or Commonwealth government against a person accused of committing a crime. Also called the Crown. must prove they were aware of the serious wrongfulness of their action (see R (a child) v Whitty  66 A Crim R 462). However, for a child of normal intelligence, proof they committed a significantly serious act may of itself be enough to satisfy a court that the child was so aware (see R v ALH  VSCA 129).
Children over 14
A child over the age of 14 is regarded as having the same knowledge of wrongfulness as an adult. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for any offence.
Unless charged with killing someone, a person who is younger than 18 at the time of the Claimed but not proved. For example, the police can allege in court that a car was stolen, but they then have to prove it with evidence. If you say a person did something illegal you are making an allegation. Unless you can back it up, you will not be able to win a court case about it. offence, and who is still younger than 19 when the case goes to court, will go (at least initially) to the Children’s Court. (See Chapter 1.4: The Children’s Court.)