Young offenders in NSW can confess to minor offences and avoid conviction in a new program which has been created to close a loophole in the cautioning system. Previously young offenders would have to admit guilt to be issued with a formal caution but many young offenders were reluctant to make an admission without the promise that they wouldn’t face further conviction, leading to a catch 22 situation.
The new scheme, known as the protected admissions scheme guarantees that first time offenders who make an admission of guilt for a minor matter won’t face further conviction and will be released with a formal caution by police. The protected admissions scheme is the result of collaboration between the police, Legal Aid NSW, the Department of Police and Justice and the Aboriginal Legal Service.
What are the benefits to young offenders?
Although there is a formal cautioning scheme in place for young offenders, it requires the offender to admit to their offence before they can be cautioned. Previously, lawyers would be reluctant to advise young offenders to admit guilt without knowing the full accusation or the offender’s previous history.
This meant that police would issue a formal charge and the matter would go to court. Once at court, lawyers would have full access to the accusation and the defendant’s criminal history and could make an informed decision on whether they would be able to get a caution.
Under the new scheme offenders are guaranteed that if they confess, it won’t be used against them as evidence at a later date. This has a number of benefits for young offenders, the main benefit being that they will be able to avoid a lifelong criminal conviction. With this scheme in place, young offenders who may have made a one off mistake don’t have to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives and their future career and travel plans won’t be jeopardised.
The protected admission scheme also means that young offenders can avoid the trauma and distress of having to go to court. Although many young offenders are given a caution at court, the court process can be stressful and emotionally traumatic. This scheme allows more matters to be dealt with at the police station so that young people don’t have to go through the court process unnecessarily.
Alleviating the burden on courts
As part of the aim of this scheme is to divert young offenders from having to go to court, it is expected that it will also result in savings in time and resources for the legal system. Matters which previously would have gone to court can now be dealt with and finalised at the police station, leaving the courts to deal with the more serious and complex cases.
Does this scheme apply to all young offenders?
Only first time offenders can be released with a caution under the protected admission scheme. Young offenders who are between the age of 10 and 18 with no previous convictions or cautions are eligible as long as their offence meets the criteria for minor offences. To be accepted, the young offender must give their consent to the process and make their confession in the company of a parent, guardian or other appropriate adult of their choice.
This scheme only applies to minor offences. Certain offences including any offences resulting in death, the majority of sexual offences and armed robbery are excluded, as well as robbery in company, traffic offences and breach of an AVO. A young offender who is alleged to have committed any of these offences will be required to go to court.
Any young person who is facing legal proceedings should seek legal advice as soon as possible from an experienced criminal lawyer who understands the law as it relates to minors.