Where a minor offence is admitted by the youth and the offence is still not sufficiently serious to warrant a prosecution in the Youth Court, but the youth has already previously had a formal caution, the matter may be referred for a family conference.
A family conference is a meeting designed to make youth aware of the causes and consequences of offences they have committed. It is a non-adversarial model which involves discussion, often over a period of several hours, of the causes and consequences of offences in the hope that the youth will accept responsibility for the offence and not offend again.
A Youth Justice Coordinator is employed by the Youth Court to convene meetings between all parties, including the youth themselves, his or her family, a Youth Police Officer, any other relevant people. Although invited to attend, a victim's attendance is voluntary. The meeting may take place at a variety of locations such as a school, community centre or police station. The purpose of the family conference is to involve all relevant parties in determining an appropriate punishment for the offence.
The family conference can impose any or all of the following undertakings on the youth:
[See Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) s 12].
An undertaking may last up to twelve months. Penalties should not exceed such sentence as would be imposed by the Youth Court for comparable offences. A copy of any undertaking in relation to community service work or compensation is filed with the Registrar of the Youth Court. Payments of compensation by the youth must be made to the Registrar who will forward on the compensation to the victim(s) of the offence(s).
The Youth Police Officer has power to veto any agreement or decision reached by the family conference. In that case, the youth must be formally charged and the matter brought before the Youth Court.
If the youth fails to attend a family conference as convened, does not comply with a requirement of the conference or fails to comply with any undertaking, charges may be laid and the matter brought before the court. However, if the court thinks that the problem can be resolved, it may refer the case back to a family conference [see Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) s 17(2)].
The youth will be given the opportunity to explain and discuss the circumstances of the offence. While a youth is entitled to have a lawyer present at a family conference, he or she may not speak on behalf of the youth. The lawyer's role is confined to giving legal advice. Any decision made at the conference is not valid unless both the youth and a representative from the police are in agreement.