When children are charged with a crime, they are usually dealt with in the children’s court rather than in an adult court.
This is partly because the process of going to court and the way that court hearings are managed can be emotionally distressing and traumatic for a child.
Another reason is that a heavy emphasis is placed upon rehabilitation rather than punishment when it comes to children, and specialist children’s courts are best placed to promote the rehabilitation of young offenders so that they are steered towards becoming responsible, law-abiding adults.
Children’s courts like Bidura Court are set up to minimise the stress caused to children by having to go to court, and offer them extra support.
In spite of the extra support available, children’s court can still be an intimidating and overwhelming place.
If you or a child you know is due to attend Bidura Children’s Court, it may be helpful for them to have an understanding of how the children’s court works and what they need to do on the day.
When you arrive
If you have been given a court attendance notice or you are required to attend court for another reason, such as a care and protection case or regarding a compulsory schooling order, it’s important to make sure you arrive on time.
You don’t have to wear a suit or tie to court but it’s a good idea to make sure you are dressed presentably and look neat and tidy.
Bring any paperwork relating to your case with you.
Children are allowed to have a support person with them so it’s a good idea to bring someone along.
Although children’s court is closed to the general public, support people will usually be allowed to remain in the court while the matter is being dealt with.
Bringing a parent is always a good look because it shows that the child has support systems at home.
On arrival at Bidura Court, check which court your case is being heard in.
There will normally be a list on display in the lobby or a court worker can tell you where to go.
If you aren’t sure you can go to the registry and someone will tell you.
Outside the courtroom
Once you have found your nominated courtroom you will need to inform court staff that you have arrived and take a seat outside.
If you need to see a duty lawyer, the court officers will let you know where to go.
If you are attending court for an apprehended violence order, you may be able to wait in a safe room if you have concerns for your safety.
You may have to wait a few hours for your case to be heard so make sure you are wearing comfortable clothes.
It’s a good idea to bring something to read and something to eat in case you are waiting around for a while.
Once it is your turn, your name will be called and you can go into the courtroom with a support person.
In the courtroom
Children’s court cases are always decided by a magistrate just like in the local court if you are an adult.
There will be a number of people in the room, including the magistrate, lawyers and court staff.
It is important that you pay attention to what is happening in the courtroom.
Unlike the adult courts, your lawyer will not be required to stand up and you will only need to stand if specifically told to do so.
Address magistrate as ‘your honour’, speak clearly and answer any questions asked of you honestly and respectfully.
Don’t cross your arms, or lean backward or forwards. Respectful body language is important eg sitting upright with one hand on each knee.
Children’s court has a number of provisions in place to help children who may be vulnerable stay safe in court.
These include safe rooms for children who don’t want to wait outside the court room in the presence of other people involved in the case, and remote witness facilities where witnesses and victims of crime can give evidence without having to appear in the court room.
What to do if you’re not happy with the outcome
If you are not happy with the outcome of a matter dealt with in the children’s court you can appeal to the district court.
The matter will be reviewed by a district court judge and they will either decide to uphold the original decision or if the appeal is upheld will either overturn the conviction or uphold the conviction but with a less harsh penalty.
Appearing at court can be stressful for anyone, but even more so for children.
If you or a child you know is due to appear at court, find a respected lawyer who has experience in working with children and dealing with the children’s court.