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Police Powers and Young People (ACT)

A child or young person who is over the minimum age of criminal responsibility can be arrested and charged with a criminal offence. The police have a range of powers to arrest, search, detain and gather forensic evidence from suspects, including young people, but when the suspect is a young person there are some additional rules that apply. This page deals with police powers and young people in the ACT.

Age of criminal liability

In the ACT, the age of criminal responsibility is currently 10. However, this age is set to be raised to 12 later in 2023, and subsequently, to 14 by 2025. These changes are being made in response to widespread calls to raise the age of criminal liability due to the high level of incarceration of very young children, particularly Indigenous children, throughout Australia.

Legislation on police powers and young people

The processes police must follow when dealing with young people are set out in the Crimes Act 1900. The laws relating to youth justice and the detention of young people are contained in the Children and Young People Act 2008.

Stop and searches powers

Under section 207 of the Crimes Act 2001, the police have the power to stop and search a person if they suspect on reasonable grounds that the person has a thing in their possession that is stolen and it is necessary to prevent the thing from being lost or destroyed or the circumstances are urgent.

A young person who is stopped and searched under this provision should comply with the police and provide their name and address if asked to do so. However, the young person does not have to answer any other questions.

Forensic samples

In the ACT, police can only take photos, fingerprints, blood samples and other identification material from a young person if there is a court order authorising this.

Arrest and charge

In the ACT, the police have the power to arrest a young person if they believe on reasonable grounds that they have committed or are committing an offence and it is not appropriate to proceed by issuing a summons.

The police may use reasonable force to carry out an arrest.

When police arrest a young person and take them into custody, they must take all reasonable steps to inform a responsible person of this. If a child is charged with an offence, a responsible person must also be informed of this promptly.

A responsible person is a parent or someone else who has the daily care and responsibility for the young person.

Interviews and young people

The police may ask a young person to take part in an interview if they suspect they have committed an offence. However, police must not attempt to interview a child unless:

  • a parent, family member, lawyer, or another suitable person who is acceptable to the child is present.
  • If it is not practicable for such a person to be present, another person who is not a police office is present.

A suspect is not obliged to answer any questions when interviewed by police and must be advised that anything they do say may be used as evidence against them. This is known as a caution. The caution must be given in a way the young person understands.

Diversion programs

If a young person commits a minor offence, the police may deal with the matter by giving them a warning or a caution rather than laying a charge. The ACT also has diversionary programs for young people who commit minor offences relating to drugs or alcohol.

If police consider a young person is suitable for a diversionary program, they will refer the young person to the Assessment and Co-ordination Team of the Alcohol and Drug Team of ACT Health, which will conduct an assessment. The young person may then be referred to a treatment agency.

To be eligible for a diversion program, a young person must admit the offence and they and their parents must consent to the matter being dealt with through diversion. This means that, provided the requirements of the diversionary program are fulfilled, the young person does not have to go through the formal justice system and does not receive a criminal record.

Children’s Court

If a young person is charged with an offence and the matter is not diverted, it will be dealt with in the Children’s Court. The young person may be summonsed to appear in court, arrested and granted bail until the court date, or remanded in detention.

When the matter is heard by the court, the young person and a parent or guardian must be present.

Criminal matters in the Children’s Court are dealt with according to the principles of youth justice set out in section 94 of the Children and Young People Act 2008.

A young person who is found guilty of an offence may be sentenced to a range of penalties including a good behaviour bond, a community service order, a fine or a term of detention.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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