A magistrate in the Children’s Court may adjourn a case (i.e. put off the case to be heard another day) for a number of reasons. These include:
• the magistrate wants a pre-sentence report;
• the magistrate defers sentencing;
• the magistrate wants the young person to attend group conferencing.
Before deciding what sentence is appropriate, the magistrate may adjourn the case and ask for a report. This may be prepared by the Victorian Government Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) Youth Justice service (s 571 Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic) (‘CYF Act’)) or the Children’s Court Clinic.
Reports prepared by Youth Justice are usually completed in three to six weeks. Reports prepared by the Children’s Court Clinic usually take longer. While the reports are being written, 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.
Deferral of sentencing
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 engage with Youth Justice and 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.
What is group conferencing?
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.
Who is group conferencing for?
Group conferencing is for young people referred by the Children’s Court.
The young person must have:
- pleaded guilty or have been found guilty of offences that do not include sex offences;
- committed offences serious enough to warrant a probation order, or a youth supervision order, or a youth attendance order, or a period of detention to be considered by the court;
- consented to participate;
- been assessed as suitable by a youth justice officer of the DFFH.
Who attends a group conference?
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;
- the police officer who laid the charge(s);
- community members; and
- the convenor.
What happens at a group conference?
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.
What are the possible outcomes of a group conference?
Recommendations from the conference could be:
- 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.