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What happens at the Children's Court

How do I get a lawyer?

Legal Aid is automatically given to young people appearing in the Children's Court who have been charged with a criminal offence or where an Apprehended Violence Order is being taken out against them. This means that young people do not have to pay any money for a Legal Aid lawyer to represent them.

Most Children's Courts will have a Children's Court Assistance Scheme which can help you fill out the Legal Aid application form.

If you have been charged with a traffic offence, you may need to go to the Local Court instead of the Children's Court and are not automatically entitled to be represented by a Legal Aid lawyer. You can ask a legal aid or duty lawyer more about this when you get to court. You can also get advice on the Legal Aid Youth Hotline.

At Parramatta, Surry Hills, Campbelltown, Hornsby, Woy Woy, Wyong, Broadmeadow, Port Kembla, Nowra and Sutherland Children's Court, a Legal Aid Children's Legal Service lawyer will be there to see you. At other courts Legal Aid pays for private lawyers or 'duty lawyers' to look after you. Aboriginal Legal Service lawyers are also available in many Children's Courts to represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

Lawyers will start seeing people around 9am and will usually see people in the order that they arrive. It is better to turn up early but sometimes people who come after you may be seen and have their matters dealt with first.

There is a good reason for this, so don't get frustrated. If there is a particular reason why you need your matter dealt with early, like a job interview or a medical appointment, you should let your lawyer know.

What does the lawyer do?

Your lawyer is there to explain your case and what happens in court, listen to your side of the story, give you advice, answer your questions and represent you in court. Most things you tell your lawyer are confidential. That means they can't tell anyone else what you've said – even your family or carers– unless they get your permission. There are some exceptions to this, like if you tell your lawyer you are going to hurt someone when you leave court.

Your lawyer will give you advice about your options at court but you get the final say about what you want to do.

You have a right to silence

The police need to prove their case against you and you have a right to silence – you don’t have to say anything to the police if you don’t want to. Anything you say to the police or anyone else (except a lawyer) may be used as proof against you, so it is important to speak to a lawyer before you talk about your case to anyone else.

What happens if I don't show up?

You have to turn up for court when your Court Attendance Notice tells you to. Sometimes the court will issue a warrant for your arrest if you don't turn up. Or the court may find you guilty of the crime you have been charged with without you being there. If you can't get to court because you are sick, you should call the court and tell them. They may ask you to provide proof, like a medical certificate, which you should ask your doctor to fax to the court.

If you know that you won't be able to come to court, for example if you are in rehab or have an important exam, you should contact the court as soon as possible. If you have been to court for that matter before, you should also contact your lawyer and tell them why you can't come to court on that day.

Why does my case keep getting adjourned?

Having a case go through the court is sometimes a long process and it can be frustrating for you, the court and even your lawyer! There are normally good reasons why your matter can't be finished as quickly as you would like.

Your matter might get adjourned (put off until another date) a few times if:

  • you plead not guilty
  • your lawyer is asking the police to change the charges or the facts
  • you plead guilty and Juvenile Justice is preparing a background report or your lawyer is getting a report from a youth worker, counsellor or doctor.

Just remember that no one wants you to come to court more times than you have to.

Who's who in the Children's Court

A diagram of who is who in the Children's Court

click diagram to enlarge