The criminal jurisdiction of the Youth Court deals with charges against youth aged between 10 and 18 years at the time the offence was committed. In its civil jurisdiction it hears and decides child protection applications, see Child Protection.
A youth who denies police allegations, who is alleged to have committed a serious offence, who offends repeatedly, or fails to complete an undertaking entered into at a police caution or a family conference will be charged and referred to the Youth Court. However, even after a charge has been laid, the Youth Court may still refer the matter back for a police caution or a family conference (once the youth's guilt has been established) if the court believes this is more appropriate.
Proceedings in the Youth Court are conducted in much the same way as in the adult courts with the important difference that the Youth Court is a closed court which means that only those participating in the proceedings are allowed to attend. Reporting by the media is restricted. Publication of information which would tend to identify a youth is not allowed, nor any information revealing the name, address or school of any youth. Information which would tend to identify the victim or any other person involved in the matter, without their consent, is also prohibited [see Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) s 13].
Criminal charges against people under 18 years must be heard in a court building separate from adult courts or, where that is not possible, in a separate part of an adult court building. The Youth Court in Adelaide hears youth matters only and sits daily. The Youth Court also sits in Elizabeth, Port Adelaide and Christies Beach. In most country courts there is a monthly visit by a magistrate who can, if required, preside over a Youth Court, and at other times Youth Court matters can be heard by a special justice.
If the offence is a summary offence the Youth Court has the same powers to sentence a youth as the Magistrates Court and if the offence is an indictable offence the Youth Court has the same powers to sentence a youth as the District Court [see s 22]. However, the Youth Court is limited to imposing a maximum of 12 months home detention and a maximum of 3 years detention at a training centre [see s 23].
The Youth Court has the power to hear all offences (summary and indictable). Offences of murder and manslaughter are usually tried in the Supreme Court [see Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) s 17(3)]. Other matters can also be referred to an appropriate adult court in certain circumstances.
Where a youth is charged with a major indictable offence and the Director of Public Prosecutions determines that they pose an appreciable risk to the safety of the community, they may lay a charge against them before the Magistrates Court so the youth can be dealt with as an adult [see s 16(2)]. In assessing whether a youth poses such a risk, the following factors must be considered under s 15A :
Before committing a youth for trial in an adult court for an offence the Youth Court conducts a preliminary examination of the charge to satisfy itself that the youth has a 'case to answer' which means that there is sufficient evidence to justify a trial.
The Youth Court does not use juries. However, a youth who pleads not guilty to an indictable offence can request trial by jury in an appropriate adult court (either the District or Supreme Court). This is a basic right for an adult and is available for a youth if the youth so wishes, after receiving legal advice.