Children and young people

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Children and

young people



5. Children and young people... 5.0.5 5.1 Some statistics ... 5.1.1 5.1.1 population ... 5.1.1 5.1.2 education ... 5.1.2 5.1.3 employment status... 5.1.4 5.1.4 Crime ... 5.1.4 5.1.5 young people in juvenile justice supervision ... 5.1.5 5.1.6 Children and young people as victims of crime ... 5.1.6 5.1.7 Child protection applications... 5.1.8 5.2 Some information... 5.2.1 5.2.1 definitions... 5.2.1 5.2.2 Capacities of children and young people ... 5.2.1 5.2.3 examples of difficulties experienced by children and young people when appearing

before court... 5.2.3 5.2.4 the impact of these difficulties... 5.2.4 5.3 Legal status in relation to court processes ... 5.3.1 5.3.1 Capacity to give evidence... 5.3.1 5.3.2 Criminal responsibility ... 5.3.1 5.3.3 Compellability ... 5.3.1 Family Court proceedings ... 5.3.2 Protection proceedings... 5.3.2 Restraining order proceedings ... 5.3.2 5.3.4 Family Court proceedings... 5.3.2 5.3.5 Criminal jurisdiction... 5.3.3 Bail... 5.3.4 5.3.6 non-criminal jurisdiction... 5.3.5 5.3.7 requirements to obtain the views of relevant children and young people ... 5.3.5 Protection proceedings... 5.3.6 Family Court proceedings ... 5.3.7


5.4 Special measures for obtaining views or evidence from children and

young people ... 5.4.1 5.4.1 Family Court proceedings... 5.4.1 5.4.2 other provisions ... 5.4.2 Unrepresented persons ... 5.4.2 Visually recorded investigative interviews with children in any proceeding

for an offence... 5.4.3 Special hearing to take and record evidence of child witnesses in full... 5.4.4 Video-links or screening arrangements for the protection of child

witnesses... 5.4.5 Special hearings, video-links or screening arrangements for children

as “special witnesses” in any proceeding for an offence... 5.4.6 Discretion to take evidence by video-link in the interests of justice... 5.4.6 Expert evidence in sexual assault proceedings... 5.4.7 Additional arrangements in certain proceedings ... 5.4.7 Arrangements in restraining order proceedings ... 5.4.7 Additional arrangements in all proceedings ... 5.4.7 5.5 Practical considerations... 5.5.1 5.5.1 involvement of children and young people in legal proceedings ... 5.5.1 5.5.2 minimise delays ... 5.5.1 5.5.3 oaths, affirmations and declarations... 5.5.2 5.5.4 managing the manner in which a child or young person gives evidence... 5.5.4 5.5.5 language and communication ... 5.5.6 Level and style of language ... 5.5.7 Explain court proceedings and processes adequately ... 5.5.8 5.5.6 Cross-examination... 5.5.8 5.5.7 regular breaks ... 5.5.11 5.5.8 Jury directions ... 5.5.12 5.5.9 sentencing, other decisions and judgment or decision writing ... 5.5.12 5.6 Further information or help ... 5.6.1 5.7 Further reading ... 5.7.1 5.8 Your comments... 5.8.1


5 C h i l d r e n a n d y o u n g p e o p l e

Children and young people have a very different experience of the justice system than adults.

It is important that the courts are an accessible and safe environment for children and young people, and that their vulnerabilities are taken into account. This chapter explores that experience, and the considerations that must be taken into account when dealing with children and young people.

The material used in this chapter was drawn from the New South Wales Judicial Commission’s Equality before the Law Bench Book,1with modifications as a result of the incorporation of local legislation, data and reference material. The Steering Committee overseeing the production of this Bench Book also gratefully acknowledges the submissions and contributions of the following organisations, which assisted in the development of this chapter:

Legal Aid WA and Youth Legal Service (Joint Submission 18 December 2007);

Commissioner for Children and Young People (5 March 2009);

Advocate for Children in Care (9 March 2009);

Department for Child Protection (26 March 2009);

Judge Kevin Sleight, District Court (22 May 2009); and

Legal Aid — Goldfields Office (23 July 2009).

1 Judicial Commission of nsW, Equality before the Law Bench Book (2006), available at: (accessed 17 June 2009).


5.1 Some statistics

5.1.1 Population

Children and young people constitute a significant proportion of the population of Western Australia:

As at 30 June 2008, infants aged 0-4 years constituted 6.6% of the population; 5-14-year-

• olds accounted for 13.1%, and 15–24-year-olds for 14.3%, of the population.2

A total of 19.7% of Western Australians were children aged 0-14 years: similar to the

national figure of 19.2%.3

Of the estimated 2.17 million residents of Western Australia in June 2008, 518,239 were

• young people under 18 years of age.4

Of these 518,239 young people, 267,320 (52%) were male and 250,910 (48%) were

female; together they comprised almost 25% of the State’s population.5

The most recent data on the number of Aboriginal young people in WA is from the

• 2006 Census count.6 In that count, 25,600 (5%) young people were Aboriginal, 424,400

(88%) were non-Aboriginal and 31,700 (7%) did not say.

Table 5-1 Summary of statistics related to the number of young people, their gender and Aboriginality

Female male total

Aboriginal 13,091 12,568 25,659 (5%)

Non Aboriginal 217,666 206,751 424,417 (88%)

Not stated 16,582 15,185 31,767 (7%)

Total 247,339 234,504 481,843

The “traditional” nuclear family, consisting of two parents and children, is less common

• than might be assumed: of the 511,917 families in Western Australia, 45.1% were couple families with children, 38.3% were couple families without children, 14.8% were one- parent families and 1.7% were “other families”.7

2 unless otherwise indicated, data is drawn from the australian bureau of statistics (abs), Australian Demographic Statistics, December Quarter 2008 Cat no 3101.0 (2009), available at: (accessed 17 June 2009).

3 unless otherwise indicated, data is drawn from the australian bureau of statistics (abs), Australian Demographic Statistics, December Quarter 2008 Cat no 3101.0 (2009), available at: (accessed 17 June 2009).

4 abs, Population by Age and Sex, Australian States and Territories, June 2008 Cat no 3201.0 (2008), available at: (accessed 17 June 2009).

5 abs, Population by Age and Sex, Australian States and Territories, June 2008 Cat no 3201.0 (2008), available at: (accessed 17 June 2009).

6 abs, 2006 Census Tables: Western Australia Cat no 2068.0 (2008) “Western australia — age by indigenous status by sex”, available at: (accessed 17 June 2009).

7 abs, 2006 Census Data: QuickStat (2007), available at: (accessed 15 July 2009).


5.1.2 Education

Organised education is a major component of the lives of children and young people.

Some significant amendments were made to the school leaving age in 2006 with the passage of the Acts Amendment (Higher School Leaving Age and Related Provisions) Act 2005 (WA). This Act amended the School Education Act 1999 (WA) and the Curriculum Council Act 1997 (WA) to raise the school leaving age in WA. This change is being made progressively:8

In 2005, all young people turning 15 years of age were required to complete an 11

th year

of high school in 2006.

In 2007, all young people turning 16 years of age were required to complete their 12

th year

of high school in 2008.

From 2008 to 2013, all young people must remain involved in education until the end of

the year in which they turn 17 years of age.

From 2014, all young people must remain involved in education until the end of the year

• in which they turn 17 years and six months of age.

Year 11 and 12 students have a number of options for enrolment, including study at a registered training organisation or university, becoming an apprentice or trainee, adopting a combination of training and employment, or even taking up full-time employment. Parents of school-aged children other than those in Years 11 and 12 are obliged to enrol their children in educational programs and either send them to school or have approval to be a home educator.9 In its annual report 2007/08, the Department of Education and Training of Western Australia reported that of young people in Western Australia:10

88.6% of those aged between 15-17 years were engaged in some form of education. This

participation rate had remained reasonably stable over the previous five years.

53.6% of all secondary graduates in 2007/08 attended public schools, a similar result to

• the past several years. The proportion of secondary graduates for girls (60.4%) was higher than for boys (47.2%); it was only 14.2% for Aboriginal young people.

Following the trend of the past five years, there was a 60.9% retention rate of year 12

• students.

The retention rate for Aboriginal students had levelled after steadily increasing for the past

five years — and while 96.3% of Year 8 Aboriginal students stayed on until the end of Year 10 and 75.3% to Year 11, only 25.4% stayed to Year 12.

Other issues of note include that:11

Among public school Year 9 students, the proportion of girls achieving benchmarks in

literacy (reading 90.0%, writing 93.7% and numeracy 86.8%) continued to be higher than boys (reading 85.8%, writing 86.2% and numeracy 88.7%).

8 Explanatory Memorandum, Acts Amendment (Higher School Leaving Age and Related Provisions) Bill 2005 (Wa) 1-2.

9 refer School Education Act 1999 (Wa) ss 9, 10, 11b.

10 department of education and training, Annual Report 2007—2008 (2008), available at: (accessed 18 June 2009).

11 department of education and training, Annual Report 2007—2008 (2008), available at: (accessed 18 June 2009).


Of public school Year 9 students who had a language background other than English, the

• benchmarks achieved were reading 79.8%, writing 88.6% and numeracy 83.3%.

Aboriginal student benchmarks were lower in literacy (reading 53.8%, writing 63.9%)

and numeracy (53.5%).

The average attendance rate in the primary years for non-Aboriginal students was 94.1%

• compared to 81.2% for Aboriginal students.

In the lower secondary years, the average attendance rate was 90.0% for non-Aboriginal

students compared with 69.0% for Aboriginal students.

The 2009 Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report highlighted that Indigenous

• children in remote and particularly in very remote areas across Australia have, on average, much lower rates of school attendance, achievement and retention than Indigenous children in urban areas and other Australian children.12

That report also indicated that WA had the second lowest proportion of Aboriginal Year

3 students achieving national benchmarks in reading, writing and numeracy. The results were the same for Years 5 and 7.

A 2009 report by the Western Australian Auditor General found that:13

School attendance is steadily declining. Between 2000 and 2008 average attendance in

primary schools fell from 94.5% to 92.6%, and in secondary schools from 90.7% to 88.0%.

Almost three quarters of public students attend school regularly (over 90% of the time).

The number of students at educational risk due to poor attendance rose 6% in 2008 to

nearly 49,000.

Poor school attendance is a significant problem among both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal

• students:

The largest number of students at educational risk due to poor attendance are non-

Aboriginal children in metropolitan schools.

A high proportion of Aboriginal students have low levels of attendance, making them

over twice as likely to be at educational risk.

Achieving adequate levels of education is one of the key contributors to overcoming

Indigenous disadvantage.

Attendance drops significantly as students progress through secondary school; by Year 10

• only 53% of students attend regularly.

12 steering Committee for the review of government service provision, Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2009 (2009) chapter 4, available at: (accessed 7 July 2009).

13 auditor general, Every Day Counts: Managing Student Attendance in Western Australian Public Schools (report no 9) (2009), available at: (accessed 20 august 2009).


5.1.3 Employment status14

According to 2006 Census data, of 85,412 young people in WA between the ages of 15-17 years:

7,917 (9.27%) were employed full-time;

23,043 (26.98%) were employed part-time;

3,056 (3.58%) were employed but were away from work at the time of Census;

1,346 (1.58%) were unemployed and looking for full-time work;

2,459 (2.88%) were unemployed and looking for part-time work;

42,485 (49.74%) were not in the labour force; and

5,105 (5.98%) did not report on participation in the labour force.

5.1.4 Crime15

In Western Australia a child under the age of 10 years is not criminally responsible for any act or omission.16

In the Western Australian criminal justice system in 2007/08:

The most prevalent principal offences adjudicated in the Children’s Court were dangerous

• or negligent acts endangering persons (19.8%) followed by road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences (19.8%), unlawful entry with intent (14.1%), acts intended to cause injury (11.4%) and theft and related offences (10.2%).

8,284 defendants had their matters finalised in the Western Australian Children’s Court in

2007/08. Of these young people, 6,623 were male (79.9%), 1,609 were female (19.4%) and there were 52 young people (0.6%) whose gender was not stated.

Of the 8,284 defendants who had their matters finalised in the Western Australian Children’s Court in 2007/08:

5,852 hearings (69.8%) returned a verdict of guilty (whether via a guilty plea or proven

guilty). Of these, 5,524 defendants (94.4%) received a non-custodial sentence and 328 (5.6%) received a custodial sentence.

43 defendants (0.5%) were acquitted, 40 (0.5%) were transferred to another court and,

for 497 defendants (6.0%), the charges were withdrawn.

The remaining 1,852 (22.4%) defendants were dealt with by non-adjudicated finalisations,

• e.g. transfer to non-court agencies or being found unfit to plead.

14 abs, CDATA Online (2009) Customised table “Western australia, employment — labour Force status 15 to 17 year olds”, available at: (accessed 15 July 2009).

15 unless otherwise indicated, this data is drawn from abs, Criminal Courts, Australia, 2007– 08 Cat no 4513.0 (2009), available at: (accessed 18 June 2009).

16Criminal Code (Wa) s 29.


Note that over the last decade, international research with a focus on children and young people who have experienced prenatal

exposure to alcohol has highlighted a link between Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) and involvement in the criminal justice system. For practical guidance on adjustments that can be made for

people with disabilities in court and for more information on FASD, please refer to chapter 4 on people with disabilities, and in particular

sections and

5.1.5 Young people in juvenile justice supervision17

Young people may be detained at a juvenile detention centre while on remand or sentenced detention. Supervision can also take the form of community supervision orders or supervised release from detention; juveniles on community-based orders may be required to complete community work, as well as to participate in vocational, education or rehabilitation programs.18

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that:

A total of 12,765 young people were under juvenile justice supervision at some time in

• 2006/07 in Australia, of whom 2,019 (15%) were in WA — of these 1,892 were aged between 10 and 17.

Available information on the 2,019 young people under juvenile justice supervision in

• WA in 2006/07 indicates that:

761 (37.7%) were non-Aboriginal;

1,240 (61.4%) were Aboriginal;

1,610 (79.9%) were male; and

402 (19.9%) were female.

Some of these young people have experienced both community-based supervision and


The number of young people in detention in WA over the four years from 2002/03

• to 2006/07 increased by 6.1% and the number of young people on community-based supervision also increased by 7.8%.

The rate at which young people in WA between the ages of 10-17 were held in juvenile

• detention (at 3.9 per 1,000) was second highest after the Northern Territory (4.9); the national rate was 2.2 young people per 1,000.

17 unless otherwise indicated, the data in this section is drawn from australian institute of health and Welfare (aihW), Juvenile Justice in Australia 2006–07 Cat no Juv 4 (2008), available at: (accessed 18 June 2009).

18 department of Corrective services, Juvenile Offenders in the Community (2008), available at: (accessed 14 april 2009).


71% of the average daily number of young people in detention in WA in 2006/07 were

• Aboriginal. (Since June 2004, the proportion of Aboriginal juveniles in detention in WA has never been lower than 65%.19)

Of the 1,610 male young people under juvenile justice supervision in WA in 2006/07,

• 636 (39.5%) were non-Aboriginal, 958 (59.5%) were Aboriginal and for 16 (1%) this was not stated.

Of the 402 female young people under juvenile justice supervision in WA in 2006/07 124

• (30.8%) were non-Aboriginal, 276 (68.6%) were Aboriginal and for 2 (0.5%) this was not stated.

In WA the rate per 1,000 young people aged between 10 and 17 on juvenile justice

• supervision for non-Aboriginal young people was 3.2, compared with 79.8 for Aboriginal young people.

In WA an Aboriginal young person was 25 times more likely to be under supervision than

• a non-Aboriginal young person. This is significantly higher than in all other states and territories.

5.1.6 Children and young people as victims of crime

Perhaps contrary to common perceptions, juveniles are disproportionately represented as the victims of violent and other crimes:

In 2008, young people between the ages of 10-19 were almost 25% of the victims of

recorded personal crimes for the offences of assault, sexual assault and robbery, although they comprised only 14% of the total population of WA.20

This data is consistent with earlier studies on the victimisation of young people in WA.

These indicated that, in 1993, young people between the age of 15-19 were the age group most likely to be the victim of a personal crime; and the 1995 National Crime Statistics indicated that 68.5% of the victims of sexual assault in WA were 19 and under.21

As indicated in chapter 13 on family and domestic violence, between 1989/90 and 2006/07

• there were 752 homicide victims in Australia aged 17 or younger. The proportion of child victims increased from 12% of all homicides in 1989/90 to just under 15% in 2006/07;

this was principally an increase, as a proportion of all homicide victims, in those under 10 years old.22

19 department of Corrective services, Monthly Graphical Report: June 2009 (2009), available at: (accessed 18 June 2009).

20 abs, Recorded Crime — Victims, Australia 2008 Cat no 4510.0 (2009) “victims, sex and age group by states and territories — supplementary data cubes”, available at: (accessed 18 June 2009); abs, Australian Demographic Statistics, December 2008 Cat no 3105.0 (2009), available at: (accessed 18 June 2009).

21 mukherjee s, Carach C and higgins K, Juvenile Crime and Justice: Australia 1997 (research & public policy series no 11) (1997) 55, 57, available at: (accessed 12 august 2009).

22 aiC, “Child victims of homicide” Crime facts info no 183 (2008), available at: (accessed 12 august 2009).


The 2006 ABS General Social Survey for WA found that the proportion of 18–24-year-

• olds who felt very safe/safe at home alone after dark was lower than every age group other than those who were 75 and over; 18–24-year-olds were also the most likely to feel very unsafe/unsafe walking alone in their local area after dark; to have been a victim of physical or threatened violence in the past 12 months; and to have been the victim of an actual or attempted break-in in the past 12 months.23

Research has highlighted that much child sexual abuse is not reported; for those matters

that are reported, there is a high level of attrition in the number of cases progressing to trial and conviction:

In Victoria it was found that only 5–10% of reported cases that proceed to court are

finalised, and only half of these result in conviction.24

A recent Parliamentary inquiry into the prosecution of assaults and sexual offences

in WA estimated that only 1% of all alleged sexual offences generally (reported and unreported) result in conviction.25

Research into the experiences of child complainants of sexual abuse in the criminal justice

system in three Australian jurisdictions concluded that most Australian jurisdictions fail to address the issue of abuse inflicted by the justice system itself and the manner in which children as a group are disadvantaged in the legal process. Significantly:26 When asked if they would ever report sexual abuse again following their experiences in the criminal justice system, only 44% of children in Queensland, 33% in New South Wales and 64% in Western Australia indicated they would.

(Based on research data, the higher response in Western Australia appears to be indicative of more child-friendly provisions in this State — see 5.4.)

23 abs, General Social Survey, Western Australia, 2006 Cat no 4159.5.55.001 (2007), available at: (accessed 12 august 2009).

24Cashmore J, “a decade later: issues in the care and protection of children” (2008) 92 Reform 33.

25Community development and Justice standing Committee, Inquiry into the Prosecution of Assaults and Sexual Offences (2008) 54, available at: (accessed 19 June 2009).

26 eastwood C, “the experiences of child complainants of sexual abuse in the criminal justice system” Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice no 250 (2003), available at: (accessed 12 august 2009).


5.1.7 Child protection applications27

A major role of the Department for Child Protection is to receive and assess concerns for a child’s well-being and allegations of child abuse and neglect, and to take action to protect children and young people. This may include arranging for a child’s or young person’s care out of home and making application to the Children’s Court for a protection order under the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (WA). Protection orders may be varied, revoked, or revoked and replaced by further application to the court.

Under Part 4, Division 3, Subdivisions 3 to 6 of the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (WA) a range of protection orders are available to the court. These are:

protection orders (supervision);


protection orders (time-limited);


protection orders (until 18); and

protection orders (enduring parental responsibility).


Of the total 1,334 protection applications lodged in 2007/08, 774 were new applications, 253 were extension applications and 307 were replacement and revocation applications.

The 774 new applications made in 2007/08 compared to 814 new applications made in 2006/07, a decrease of 5%. However, the total number of protection applications increased had from 1,105 in 2006/07 and from 515 in 2005/06.31

Of the 774 new applications in 2007/08, 316 were granted, 417 were in process, 3 were dismissed and 38 were withdrawn.

27 unless otherwise indicated, this information is drawn from the department for Child protection, Annual Report 2007-08 (2008), available at: (accessed 18 June 2009).

28 this order can only be imposed for a period not in excess of two years and must end before the child reaches 18 years of age: see Children and Community Services Act 2004 (Wa) s 48.

29 this order can only be imposed for a period not in excess of two years and must end before the child reaches 18 years of age: see Children and Community Services Act 2004 (Wa) s 55.

30 this order enables parental responsibility for a child to be granted to a person/s other than the child’s parent/s.

31 department for Child protection, Annual Report 2006-07 (2007) and department for Community development, annual report 2005-2006 (2006), available at: (accessed 18 June 2009).


5.2 Some information

5.2.1 Definitions

Generally, a child is defined as a person who is under the age of 18 years of age, or who, in the absence of positive evidence, is apparently under the age of 18 years; see, for example, s 3 of the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (WA) and s 1 of the Criminal Code (WA).

The term “young person” is similarly defined under s 3 of the Young Offenders Act 1994 (WA) to refer to someone who has not yet reached the age of 18 years. As “child” is not a descriptor that is generally acceptable to older children, the term “children and young people” tends to be more generally adopted.

Under the Evidence Act 1906 (WA) and the Young Offenders Act 1994 (WA), the terms “child”

and “young person” respectively (and the relevant procedures set out in those Acts) apply not only to individuals under the age of 18 years, but also to persons who committed or are alleged to have committed an offence before the age of 18, even if they are over the age of 18 during proceedings relating to the offence.32

5.2.2 Capacities of children and young people

Children and young people face particular difficulties in our adversarial legal system — whether appearing as witnesses or as alleged offenders — largely because of a mismatch between their capacities and the adult-orientated court environment and processes. If these difficulties are not taken into account, the evidence that the court obtains from them is likely to be incomplete and of poor quality.

The main points to note about the capacities of children and young people in relation to court appearances are that:

Children and young people are not adults.

Their ability to communicate their evidence may be different from that of adults because

• of:

differences in the way they understand the world, especially time, context, and


differences in what aspects of past events they remember and how they recall and relate

to them;

their greater dependence on context for comprehending language and concepts;

their less developed capacity to sequence events and relate them in order;

differences in their understanding of vocabulary and grammar, especially personal

pronouns and referents (for example, here, there, how and then);

differences in their levels of maturity and thus how they react to particular situations

and interact with people;33

their shorter attention span, especially under stress;

32 see Evidence Act 1906 (Wa) s 106a; Children’s Court of Western Australia Act 1988 (Wa) s 19(2); Young Offenders Act 1994 (Wa) ss 3, 4.

33Young Offenders Act 2004 (Wa) ss 7 and 8 make reference to “maturity” being a consideration within the general principles of juvenile justice.


the fact that by the time they appear in court their developmental age (or stage of

development) may have altered substantially (which will affect how they present their evidence and how they are viewed by those in court);

their relative lack of power in the adult world; and

their often being subjected to express or implicit family or peer pressure to give — or

not to give — particular evidence.

Children’s and young people’s comprehension and communication abilities can vary

considerably, even among children of the same age, depending on their background and experiences and the differences in their acquired life skills and relationship skills; these in turn affect how they understand and react to various situations.

Cultural and family functionality/dysfunction strongly influences the manner in which

• children and young people comprehend and respond to a situation.

Children’s and young people’s ability to give cogent evidence is significantly affected by

stress and anxiety, and by the way they are treated in court.

Adolescents may have more difficulty dealing with the emotional impact of court

• proceedings than younger children. They may also have more negative attitudes to the legal system if they have testified before, especially if they have had to do so more than once.

Children and young people facing criminal charges are likely to have significant difficulties

in presenting their evidence adequately, because many come from disadvantaged socio- economic and educational backgrounds and a significant proportion have intellectual, physical and mental health problems. They may also have experienced physical and emotional abuse and neglect, or sexual abuse. In addition, some will have come to the attention of the police because of homelessness, or because they are working as prostitutes to pay for their drug and/or alcohol addiction.

Care should be taken not to make assumptions about the intellectual capacity of children and young people. Each child and young person’s understanding must be assessed based on their personal characteristics and development. Legal Aid WA and Youth Legal Services note that:34

The development of “executive function” in the brain is not generally complete until the age of approximately 25, and it should therefore be noted that older children are not adults.

Be careful not to make assumptions about the level of a child’s intellectual development based on the physical appearance of the child. Some young children are physically very developed and this frequently leads to erroneous expectations that their behaviour or their intellectual development is also developed. It is important to make assessments based on the age of the child, rather than the size of the child.

This is reflected in the relevant Western Australian legislation. Section 7(l) of the Young Offenders Act 1994 (WA) requires that:

in dealing with a young person for an offence, the age, maturity, and cultural background of the offender are to be considered.

34 submission from legal aid Wa and youth legal services (18 december 2007).


The Children and Community Services Act 2004 (WA) also emphasises the need to consider a child’s understanding based on their individual characteristics.35

5.2.3 Examples of difficulties experienced by children and young people when appearing before court

There is a considerable body of research both in Australia and overseas demonstrating the difficulties faced by children and young people in giving evidence.

The main difficulties which can jeopardise the reliability and comprehensiveness of their evidence include:

Long delays in getting to court: delays exacerbate children’s and young people’s stress and

• adversely affect their memory of events.

Long waiting periods at court, often in an alien environment, resulting in increased stress,

boredom, tiredness and restlessness.

Formal and intimidating court environment and procedures that take little or insufficient

• account of a child’s or young person’s needs — including their need for breaks to allow them to rest, go the toilet or get a drink.

Having to confront the accused: even when children and young people use video-link or

• closed circuit television (CCTV), they sometimes come face to face with the accused or his/her supporters in the court precincts, causing distress and intimidation.

Having to tell their story repeatedly: frustration and incomprehension about why this is

• necessary increases their stress and decreases their willingness to answer questions. Most will have told their story many times before they get to court.

Incomprehensible processes and procedures: for example, they may not understand

• what the court is trying to do, why they have to answer questions they may have already answered many times before, what can and cannot be said in evidence, the importance of intent and what bail means.

Complex language: this may cause children and young people to respond with many “I

don’t knows” or silences, or to give confused or contradictory evidence.

Confrontational questioning: if children and young people are intimidated, they may

• “shut down” and become unable to respond, or become distressed and break down.

The presence or absence of their parent(s) or guardian(s): while some children will be

helped by having their parent(s) or guardian(s) present, others will feel inhibited by their presence.

35 see Children and Community Services Act 2004 (Wa) ss 8(f), 10(1)(a), 10(2).


5.2.4 The impact of these difficulties

Many of the difficulties listed in 5.2.3 can be substantially mitigated if appropriate measures are taken by the courts to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of children and young people.

If appropriate measures are not taken, it is likely that children and young people will:

not feel safe or secure enough to testify to the best of their abilities;

not understand the court’s needs or questions to enable them to give their evidence

• adequately; and

feel that they have been treated unfairly or that an injustice has occurred.

If appropriate measures are not taken, in some cases children and young people will be treated unfairly or unjustly.

These problems are likely to be compounded if the child or young person also happens to be female, Aboriginal or from another culturally or linguistically diverse background, is lesbian, gay, bisexual

or transgender(ed), has a disability or practises a minority religion:

see the relevant section(s) of this Bench Book.

Sections 5.3 and 5.4 provide additional information, and section 5.5 practical guidance, about ways of treating children and young people to reduce the likelihood of these problems occurring and help ensure that a just outcome is achieved.


5.3 Legal status in relation to court processes

5.3.1 Capacity to give evidence

The rules for children and young people in relation to their capacity to give evidence are different from those for adults:

A child or young person under 12 can give sworn evidence only if they understand that the

• giving of evidence is a serious matter, and that in giving evidence, they have an obligation to tell the truth.36

However, a child or young person under 12 can give

unsworn evidence if the court is

satisfied, before the evidence is given, that the child or young person is able to give an intelligible account of events which he or she has observed or experienced.37

All persons aged 12 or above can only give evidence if it is sworn — unless they are

• mentally impaired and meet the criteria set out at the preceding dot point for giving unsworn evidence.

Additional information is provided in section 5.5.3 on oaths, affirmations and declarations.

5.3.2 Criminal responsibility

A child under the age of 10 years is not criminally responsible for any act or omission.38 A child under the age of 14 years is not criminally responsible for an act or omission unless it is proven that at the time of doing the act or making the omission they had capacity to know that they ought not to do the act or make the omission.39

A child who is not at law criminally responsible, or not proven in fact to be criminally responsible, cannot be an accomplice.40

5.3.3 Compellability

A person is compellable if that person can lawfully be obliged to give evidence: see ss 6–9 Evidence Act 1906 (WA). Generally for child witnesses, particularly those under the age of 12 years of age,41 compellability is in effect a question of competence. That is, a child can be compelled to give evidence, subject to some exceptions referred to below, should he or she be capable of giving evidence in court (refer to 5.3.1).

Unlike other jurisdictions, such as New South Wales, there are no special rules relating to the compellability of children and young people in criminal proceedings against their parents.42 While child witnesses may be competent and otherwise compellable, in the jurisdictions listed below at to, they can only be required to give evidence if the relevant court gives leave.

36Evidence Act 1906 (Wa) s 106b.

37Evidence Act 1906 (Wa) s 106C.

38Criminal Code (Wa) s 29.

39Criminal Code (Wa) s 29.

40R v Quy (1905) 7 Walr 268.

41 refer to section 5.3.1. above.

42Compare with Evidence Act 1995 (nsW) s 18.

(20) Family Court proceedings

In the Family Court, a child is not allowed to be a witness or to swear an affidavit in proceedings unless the Court orders otherwise.43 Protection proceedings

In protection proceedings, under s 150 of the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (WA), a child can only be compelled to give evidence or be cross-examined with the leave of the Children’s Court. Note that this applies to children whether or not they are the subject of the protection proceedings.44 Leave can only be granted if the Court is satisfied that the child is unlikely to suffer emotional trauma as a result, or to be so intimidated or distressed as to be unable to give evidence or be cross-examined satisfactorily.45 Restraining order proceedings

In restraining order matters other than those in which a child is the respondent,46 children are not to be called to give oral evidence except by the leave of the court.47 Leave is to be granted only where the court is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist which, in the interests of justice, justify the making of the order.48

5.3.4 Family Court proceedings

The Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006 (Cth) came into effect on 1 July 2006. The Act contained significant amendments to the law relating to children and effected a significant change to the way in which courts are to conduct family law proceedings relating to children. On a State level those provisions were imported into the Family Court Act 1997 (WA).

These provisions include that the Family Court give effect to five principles in performing its duties, exercising powers and making decisions regarding the conduct of child-related proceedings.49 They are summarised as follows:

the Court must consider the needs of the child and the impact on the child of the

• proceedings;

the Court must actively manage and control the conduct of the proceedings;

the proceedings are to be conducted in a way that will safeguard against violence, abuse

and neglect;

as far as possible the proceedings are to be conducted in a way that will promote co-

• operative and child-focused parenting by the parties; and

the proceedings are to be conducted without undue delay and with as little formality, legal

technicality and form as possible.

43Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s 100b; Family Court Act 1997 (Wa) s 214a. see section 5.4.1 of this Bench Book for the alternative measures for the Family Court to obtain a child’s views and the special arrangements available should leave be given for the child to give evidence.

44Children and Community Services Act 2004 (Wa) s 150(2).

45Children and Community Services Act 2004 (Wa) s 150 (3). see section 5.4 of this Bench Book for the special arrangements available should leave be given for a child to give evidence.

46 these matters fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Children’s Court under s 20(1)(c) of the Children’s Court of Western Australia Act 1988 (Wa).

47Restraining Order Act 1997 (Wa) s 53a(1).

48Restraining Order Act 1997 (Wa) s 53a(2). see section and of this Bench Book for the special arrangements available should leave be given for a child to give evidence.

49Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s 69Zn (1); Family Court Act 1997 (Wa) s 202b(1).


Note that the rules of evidence do not apply to child-related proceedings unless the circumstances are exceptional.50

Children are represented in their parents’ litigation through an independent children’s lawyer who represents and promotes the best interests of the child; separate legal representation for children may also be available, such as through Aboriginal Legal Aid.

The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) and the Family Court Act 1997 (WA) also provide that a parenting order in relation to a child may be applied for, by a number of adult parties but also by the child.51

In the Family Court, unless the Court “is satisfied that a child understands the nature and possible consequences of the case and is capable of conducting the case”, a child may be a party to a case only by a case guardian.52 Notwithstanding this, a case guardian will almost always be appointed for a child who is a party in a family law case.

5.3.5 Criminal jurisdiction

The special legal status accorded to children in court processes is reflected by the exclusive jurisdiction of the Children’s Court to hear and determine a charge of an offence alleged to have been committed by a child.53 However, a child or young person charged with certain indictable offences may elect to be tried in the Supreme or District Court; and the Children’s Court can also transfer charges to the Magistrates Court where a child and adult are charged with the same offence, or if the accused has turned 18.54

In any criminal proceedings against a child or young person, bear in mind the principles of juvenile justice, particularly those in s 7(b)-(m) of the Young Offenders Act 1994 (WA):

a young person who commits an offence is to be dealt with, either formally or (b)

informally, in a way that encourages the young person to accept responsibility for his or her conduct;

a young person who commits an offence is not to be treated more severely because of (c)

the offence than the person would have been treated if an adult;

the community must be protected from illegal behaviour;


victims of offences committed by young persons should be given the opportunity to (e) participate in the process of dealing with the offenders to the extent that the law

provides for them to do so;

responsible adults should be encouraged to fulfil their responsibility for the care and (f) supervision of young persons, and supported in their efforts to do so;

50Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s 69Zt; Family Court Act 1997 (Wa) s 202h.

51Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s 65C; Family Court Act 1997 (Wa) s 88.

52Family Law Rules 2004 (Cth) r 6.08(2).

53Children’s Court of Western Australia Act 1988 (Wa) s 19(1). the jurisdiction of the Court also extends to include proceedings in respect of an offence allegedly committed by a person before attaining the age of 18, even if they have attained the age of 18 at the time of the proceedings: s 19(2).

54 Children’s Court of Western Australia Act 1988 (Wa) ss 19b, 19C, 19d.


consideration should be given, when dealing with a young person for an offence, (g) to the possibility of taking measures other than judicial proceedings for the offence if the circumstances of the case and the background of the alleged offender make it appropriate to dispose of the matter in that way and it would not jeopardise the protection of the community to do so;

detaining a young person in custody for an offence, whether before or after the person (h) is found to have committed the offence, should only be used as a last resort and, if required,

is only to be for as short a time as is necessary;

detention of a young person in custody, if required, is to be in a facility that is suitable (i) for a young person and at which the young person is not exposed to contact with any adult detained in the facility, although a young person who has reached the age of 16 years may be held in a prison for adults but is not to share living quarters with an adult prisoner;

punishment of a young person for an offence should be designed so as to give the (j) offender an opportunity to develop a sense of social responsibility and otherwise to

develop in beneficial and socially acceptable ways;

a young person who is dealt with for an offence should be dealt with in a time frame (k) that is appropriate to the young person’s sense of time;

in dealing with a young person for an offence, the age, maturity, and cultural (l)

background of the offender are to be considered; and a young person who commits an offence is to be dealt wit

(m) h in a way that —

strengthens the family and family group of the young person;


fosters the ability of families and family groups to develop their own means of (ii) dealing with offending by their young persons; and

recognises the right of the young person to belong to a family.

(iii) Bail

Children have a qualified right to bail under the Bail Act 1982 (WA)55 (with special provisions being made where the child is accused of murder56).

A supervised bail program through the Department of Corrective Services may be available to young people who do not have a surety or access to a responsible adult. A magistrate or judge may also impose conditions on the grant of bail, including community bail, home detention bail, and bail release to a community hostel.57 (See also section on children and bail in regional and remote WA.)

55 refer to Bail Act 1982 (Wa) schedule 1, part C, clause 2.

56 refer to Bail Act 1982 (Wa) s 7C.

57 department of the attorney general — Court and tribunal services, Bail (2009), available at: (accessed 15 april 2009).


5.3.6 Non-criminal jurisdiction

There are restrictions in relation to the capacity of children and young people to initiate, defend or participate in legal proceedings as a party. In these instances, a child or young may need to be represented by a “litigation guardian”, “next friend” or “guardian ad litem” in legal proceedings.58 Generally this requirement applies to all persons under the age of 18. In the Supreme Court, the next friend or guardian ad litem must act by a solicitor59

The courts also have a general discretion to appoint a litigation guardian to separately represent the interests of a child or young person whose interests are or may be affected by legal proceedings.60

The Children’s Court exercises exclusive jurisdiction in relation to a number of non-criminal jurisdictions with respect to children. These are outlined in s 20 of the Children’s Court of Western Australia Act 1988 (WA):

20. Non-criminal jurisdiction as regards children

(1) Subject to this Act, the Court has exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine all applications made with respect to a child —

(a) under the Children and Community Services Act 2004;

(b) under section 29 or 38(1) of the School Education Act 1999;

(c) under the Restraining Orders Act 1997 (subject to section 52 of that Act);61 (d) under section 334 of the Health Act 1911; and

(e) under section 14 or 15 of the Parental Support and Responsibility Act 2008.

The most significant of these jurisdictions concerns applications under Part 4 of the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (WA) relating to the protection and care of children (see sections 5.1.7, and of this Bench Book).

5.3.7 Requirements to obtain the views of relevant children and young people

Whenever the outcome of a matter will have an impact on a particular child or young person or their interests, it is critical to try to obtain the views of that child or young person, including the impact of crime upon the child as a victim.62 Note, however, that children’s views on the impact of criminal proceedings are not the issue.

58 State Administrative Tribunal Act 2004 (Wa) s 40; State Administrative Tribunal Rules 2004 (Wa) r 39; Magistrates Court (Civil Proceedings) Act 2004 (Wa) ss 3, 21; Magistrates Court (Civil Proceedings) Rules 2005 (Wa) rr 116, 120.

59 Rules of the Supreme Court 1971 (Wa) r 70.

60 Legal Representation of Infants Act 1977 (Wa). in relation to the Children’s Court however, this applies only to applications made under the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (Wa).

61 note that this jurisdiction applies where the child is the respondent to an application for a restraining order.

62 see Sentencing Act 1995 (Wa) part 3 division 4. note that s 24(2) provides that if a victim, because of age or any other reason, is personally incapable of giving a victim impact statement, another person may give it on the victim’s behalf if the court is satisfied that it is appropriate for that other person to do so.


Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that a child or young person who is capable of forming their own views have the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting them, and that they must be provided with the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting them, either directly or through a representative. Protection proceedings

This principle is reflected in s 10 of the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (WA):

If a decision under this Act is likely to have a significant impact on a child’s life then, (1)

for the purpose of ensuring that the child is able to participate in the decision-making process, the child should be given —

adequate information in a manner and language that the child can understand, (a)

about —

the decision to be made;


the reasons for the Department’s involvement;


the ways in which the child can participate in the decision-making (iii)

process; and

any relevant complaint or review procedures;


the opportunity to express the child’s wishes and views freely, according to the (b)

child’s abilities;

any assistance that is necessary for the child to express those wishes and views;


adequate information as to how the child’s wishes and views will be recorded (d)

and taken into account;

adequate information about the decision made and a full explanation of the (e)

reasons for the decision; and

an opportunity to respond to the decision made.


In the application of the principle set out in subsection (1), due regard must be had (2)

to the age and level of understanding of the child concerned.

Decisions under this Act are likely to have a significant impact on a child’s life include (3)

but are not limited to —

decisions about the placement of the child;


decisions in the course of preparing, modifying or reviewing care plans or (b)

provisional care plans for the child;

decisions about the provision of social services to the child; and (c)

decisions about contact with the child’s parents, siblings, and other relatives (d)

and with any other people who are significant in the child’s life.

(25) Family Court proceedings

In family law, in deciding whether to make a particular parenting order the Family Court must regard the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration.63 In determining what is in the best interests of the child, the Court is bound to consider “any views expressed by the child and any factors (such as the child’s maturity level or level of understanding) that the Court thinks are relevant to the weight it should give to the child’s views”.64

Refer to section 5.4.1 for information on alternative ways of obtaining a child or young person’s views in family law proceedings.

63 Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s 60Ca; Family Court Act 1997 (Wa) s 66a.

64 Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s 60CC(3); Family Court Act 1997 (Wa) s 66C(3).


5.4 Special measures for obtaining views or evidence from children and young people

Where children are concerned, justice is done only when the child is dealt with in such a manner that their views are considered and/or their evidence is properly and adequately given. Accordingly, special measures (as outlined below) should be implemented to ensure that this is achieved.

The particularly demanding nature of cross-examination is of great concern. It can jeopardise both the pursuit of justice and the wellbeing of the child: not only may the child be exposed to unnecessary stress and trauma, but the quality of the child’s evidence can also be severely undermined. If valuable evidence is lost because of emotional or developmental vulnerability, then justice cannot be done.

A critical aspect of obtaining evidence is the rapport a judicial officer establishes with the child. This is particularly important in ensuring the child feels comfortable enough to look to the judicial officer for guidance if they feel they need help; this is especially important in the context of being cross-examined. (See section 5.5.6 for practical guidance on the cross- examination of children and young people.) As indicated at section 5.4.1, alternative means of informing the Family Court of a child’s views may avoid the need for children to be called to give evidence at all.

5.4.1 Family Court proceedings

Usually the Family Court will direct that a family consultant give the Court a report on such matters relevant to the proceedings as the Court thinks desirable, including a child’s views.65 The Family Court may also appoint experts to give evidence in relation to significant issues in dispute, for example psychologists, psychiatrists or social workers. During the course of preparation of an expert report children may be interviewed by the expert, and in that way the child’s wishes or views may be reported to the Court.

The role of an independent children’s lawyer (see 5.3.4) includes a duty to inform the Court by proper means of a child’s wishes in relation to any matter in the proceedings. Usually the independent children’s lawyer will meet with a child, particularly an older child, to determine the child’s wishes; and must bring those express wishes to the attention of the Court.

In child-related proceedings an independent children’s lawyer’s roles and responsibilities also include:

ensuring that the child’s views are properly recorded and provided to the judge; and

apprising a judge of any request made by the child to speak to a judge.

A judge has a discretion to interview the child; however, judicial interviews are uncommon.

If the Family Court so orders a child’s evidence may be given to the Court by way of affidavit or electronic means, and in the presence of a support person.66

65 Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) s 62g(3a); Family Court Act 1997 (Wa) s 73(3a).

66 Family Law Rules 2004 (Wa) r 15.01(2).


5.4.2 Other provisions

To assist the court to obtain a child’s or young person’s evidence, legislation, and in particular the Evidence Act 1906 (WA), prescribes several mechanisms which make the process less stressful for the child witness and improve the quality of the evidence obtained. These mechanisms are set out below.

In proceedings in which the giving of evidence by a child is likely to require the making of an order directing the use of certain of the mechanisms specified in to below, the person who is calling that child as a witness will be required to apply for a special hearing for the purpose of having such matters dealt with before the proceeding commences.67 Unrepresented persons

Be aware that:

In any criminal proceedings, an accused person who is not represented by legal counsel is

• not entitled to cross-examine any child witness directly.68

In restraining order matters, no unrepresented person is to cross-examine any child


In some instances an accused person may wish to have legal representation but be unaware of potential representation through Legal Aid WA or have difficulty in completing and lodging application forms.

If you would like information about the status or progress of an unrepresented accused person’s application to Legal Aid (WA), you can contact the Legal Aid Operations Co-ordinator — Assessing, on

telephone number: (08) 9261 6309.

Under s 106G of the Evidence Act 1906 (WA) and s 53D of the Restraining Orders Act 1997 (WA),70 although an unrepresented person is not entitled to directly cross-examine a child, he or she can put any question to the child witness (subject to the general disallowance discretion of the judicial officer71), by stating the question to the judicial officer or a person approved by the court who will repeat the question to the child.

67 Evidence Act 1906 (Wa) s 106s.

68 Evidence Act 1906 (Wa) s 106g.

69 Restraining Orders Act 1997 (Wa) s 53d.

70 note too that, other than in the Children’s Court, children would not normally give evidence in restraining order proceedings (s 53a(1)). if the court does give leave, special arrangements apply (ss 53a(2), 53b, 53C, 53e) — see of this Bench Book.

71 Evidence Act 1906 (Wa) s 26.