Committal proceedings in the Children’s Court
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 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 Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic) (‘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. Until recently, very few young people have been committed to stand trial in a higher court. However, legislative changes made in 2018 will inevitably result in more young people being committed to stand trial.
This will particularly be the case for those over 16 who have been charged with very serious offences. In these cases, the prosecution must consent to the Children’s Court hearing the charges first.
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.