The Rules of The Children’s Court in NSW

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Police have charged a 14-year old girl with murder after alleged killing in Northern New South Wales.

The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, did not apply for bail and will remain in custody until at least September when her case will be held in the Tamworth Children’s Court.

The teenager was charged after paramedics were called to a property in Gunnedah, to treat a 10-year old child, believed to be the teenager’s cousin. The nature of the child’s injuries are under a suppression order by the court, but it has been previously reported by the media that she suffered several lacerations, and paramedics were unable to save her.

A ‘suppression order’ is when a court prohibits the disclosure of information about a legal case. These are ordered in Australia for a variety of reasons – sometimes in the interest of national security, or to protect the identity and safety of witnesses, or to guarantee a fair trial

Age of culpability

In Australia, Children over 10 years of age are presumed to be capable of committing a criminal offence. Where a child is more than 10 years old but under the age of 14, there is a common law presumption of ‘doli incapax’. What this means is that in such cases, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the child did commit the act they were charged with and, when doing the act, knew it was wrong.

The Children’s Court

The case will be heard in the Children’s Court, which deals with all matters relating to children and young people (under the age of 18). The principles which guide the operation of the Children’s Court include:

  • Children have rights and freedoms before the law equal to those enjoyed by adults, and in particular a right to be heard and a right to participate in the processes that lead to decisions that affect them.
  • Children who commit offences bear responsibility for their actions but because of their state of dependency and immaturity, require guidance and assistance.
  • It is desirable, wherever possible, to allow the education or employment of a child to proceed without interruption.
  • It is desirable, wherever possible, to allow a child to reside in his or her own home.
  • The penalty imposed on a child for an offence should be no greater than that imposed on an adult who commits an offence of the same kind.
  • It is desirable that children who commit offences be assisted with their reintegration into the community so as to sustain family and community ties.
  • It is desirable that children who commit offences accept responsibility for their actions and, wherever possible, make reparation for their actions.
  • Subject to the other principles described above, consideration should be given to the effect of any crime on the victim.

Hearings with Children’s Courts are closed, which means that the presiding magistrate will decide who is permitted to attend. Much of the detail may also be suppressed to protect the young person’s identity, and the identity of the family.

The charge of murder

Murder is one of the most serious criminal offence.

In New South Wales  an act, or a failure to act, that results in the death of another person is considered to be a homicide. Homicides are then divided into two main categories; murder and manslaughter.

Murder is the more serious charge and is based on an intention to kill or seriously injure the victim, or where they have acted with reckless indifference to the victim’s life

A person can be charged with murder if they did, or failed to do something that resulted in the death of another person where they also intended to kill or seriously injure the person, or where they have foreseen that it is probable that death will result. The charge has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The lesser charge of manslaughter differs from murder as it refers to the unintentional or accidental killing of another person through a series of actions or failure to act. It carries a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment.

Penalty for murder

In New South Wales, young people under the age of 18 can indeed be sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, if they are found guilty by a court of committing this crime.

And life imprisonment means for the term of a person’s natural life.

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