Crime, the law and criminal records | Youth Law Australia (2023)

For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here.

When can I be charged with a crime and convicted?

You cannot be charged with a criminal offence until you are 10 years old. Children under 10 are not seen as mature enough to commit criminal offences.

If you are between 10 and 14 years you may be responsible for offences you commit. If you are charged with a crime at this age it must be proved in court that you knew what you did was ‘seriously wrong’ at the time you did it, and not just ‘naughty’. Any young person aged 10 to 14 who gets in trouble with the police should get legal advice, as they may have a defence if they did not fully understand the consequences of what they did.

Once you turn 14 you will be responsible for any offence that you commit.

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What happens if I am charged with a crime?

A ‘charge’ means the police believe you have broken the law, and they outline what they think you did and where and when you did it.

If a police officer reasonably suspects (definition below) you are committing or have committed a crime, then you may be charged on the spot and given a ‘Court Attendance Notice’ which tells you when your case will be heard in Court. In very rare cases you might be arrested and then give you a court attendance notice, but this is very unlikely unless you have done something very bad for example you have caused some serious violence or injuries to someone.

“Reasonably suspects”means a suspicion that is based on sensible facts that would cause fear or uneasiness in the mind of the police officer.

If you have been charged with a crime and need some advice, please contact us here.

What court will I go to?

The Children’s Court deals with most crimes committed by young people. If you are under 18 years old when the crime was committed, and are charged for that crime before you are 21, you will usually go before the Children’s Court.

The Children’s Court has a responsibility to make sure you understand what is happening in the proceeding and any procedures that are taken. So if at any point you do not understand, bring this to the courts attention.

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What penalties can the Children’s Court give me?

See our page on “Penalties given by the Children’s Court”.

Will I get a criminal record if I go to Court?

You will get a criminal record if you are convicted of a crime. ‘Convicted’ means:

  • You have been found guilty of a crime or have pleaded guilty; or
  • The court has recorded a conviction. A ‘conviction’ is an entry on your criminal record.

If you are under 16 and plead guilty, or are found guilty of a crime, then there will be no conviction recorded against you unless it is a serious crime. This means that you will not usually get a criminal record for crimes committed when you are under 16 and so these offences cannot be taken into account if you appear in the adult courts.

A serious crime means you carry out an act with the intention of harming another person or taking away their property. Some examples of serious crimes include: murder, assault, rape, carrying guns or weapons.

If you are 16 or older and plead guilty or are found guilty of a crime which is not serious, the Children’s Court may decide not record a conviction against you. Your record will always be available in the Children’s Court because the court can use it in sentencing you or deciding bail.

If a conviction was not recorded in the Children’s Court, and 2 years have passed where you have not committed any further crimes, then the record of that earlier court appearance will not be admissible in adult courts.

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For more specific advice on criminal records, you can contact us here.

Does my criminal record expire? Will it always be there?

A criminal record, especially with convictions may make it harder for you to travel overseas, get some jobs, apply for rent or stay at a refuge, and can affect any future court appearances.

For example, if you want to work in the public sector you must have a criminal record check. Even some employers can ask you for a record check, but they can only do so with your permission. You must also let insurance companies know of any driving offences you have.

Some convictions in your criminal record can be ‘spent’. This means you don’t have to let anyone know about them even if they ask, and they won’t be shown on your criminal history.

Any conviction from the Children’s Court is spent after 3 years, if you have not been in any more trouble during those 3 years.

If you are placed on a good behaviour bond, given an order, or placed in a program, then this will be spent after you finish the requirements of that order. For example, when you finish the program.

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Some convictions are never spent and so will remain on your criminal record. These include sexual crimes or crimes where you were imprisoned for more than 6 months.

Some occupations will look at your spent convictions and any cautions or youth conferences. These include police officers, teachers, fire fighters, or any other employment involving children.

If you would like to work with children, then you must pass a ‘children check’. If you have committed murder, any sexual crimes, shown violence to a child, or are a registered sex offender, then you will not be able to work with children. You can apply for a review and respond to the outcome of your check if you believe you no longer pose a risk to children.

If you would like to work in the defence force you must not have been in prison for more than 2.5 years, have committed many crimes, were convicted of a sexual crime, or been involved in any other serious crime. You are given the chance to respond to any decision made.

Do I need a lawyer?

If you are charged with a crime, it’s a good idea to talk to a lawyer. A lawyer is important because they can:

  • Listen to your problems and explain what you have been charged with,
  • Give you advice about what will happen if you are found guilty, and whether to plead guilty or not guilty,
  • Give your side of the story, answer questions in court, deal with all the paperwork and make sure your rights are protected and that you get a fair trial,
  • Explain what will happen in court

Helpful information

If you’re under 25 and have been charged with a crime or are in trouble with police, please contact us here and we can give you free information and advice.

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If you are charged with a crime you can contact the Legal Aid Youth Hotline on 1800 10 18 10. They provide free advice to young people under 18 when they have committed, or are suspected of committing a crime.

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander legal advice is also provided through contacting the Aboriginal Legal Service Hotline on 1800 765 767.

To find a private lawyer contact the Law Society of NSW Solicitor Referral Service on (02) 9926 0300 from 9am to 12pm and 1pm to 4pm, Monday to Friday. Or visit their website.


Crime, the law and criminal records | Youth Law Australia? ›

If you are charged with a crime you can contact the Youth Legal Service on (02) 8463 3533. They provide free advice and information to people under 18 years old. Alternatively you can contact the Free Legal Service Commission Helpline on 1300 654 314 (9am to 4:30pm Mon-Fri).

Does your criminal record clear at 18 in Australia? ›

Does Your Criminal Record Get Wiped at 18 in Australia? No, however if you have not committed a crime considered to be serious under the Spent Convictions Scheme or you have spent 5 years without re-offending, then your crime will no longer be on your record.

What age can a child be charged with a crime in Australia? ›

In Australia, children under the age of 10 years cannot be charged with a criminal offence. If they are between 10 and 14 years old, the prosecution has to show that they knew what they were doing was seriously wrong for a case to continue.

What crimes give you a criminal record in Australia? ›

Driving records

driving offences where you were found guilty by a court. fines for drink or drug driving. fines for speeding where you lost your licence. traffic camera offences.

Can a 14 year old go to jail in Australia? ›

Everyone knows that children do best when they are supported, nurtured and loved. But across Australia, children as young as 10 can be arrested by police, charged with an offence, hauled before a court and locked away in a prison.

How long does a child criminal record last? ›

Convictions resulting in a custodial sentence will always be disclosed on a DBS check, no matter how much time has passed. Cautions for non-specified offences that are more than six years old will no longer show on your DBS certificate.

How long does a criminal record last in Australia? ›

Criminal records in Australia do not have an expiration date. The record remains permanent, except on occasions where a conviction becomes spent. A spent conviction limits the disclosure of details surrounding the offence after some time has passed.

Can a 15 year old go to jail in Australia? ›

The age of criminal responsibility is the age at which you can be arrested, charged and found guilty of breaking the law. In Australia the age of criminal responsibility is 10 years old.

What happens if a child commits a crime? ›

Although normally not as severe as adult sentences, penalties can still be significant for youth crimes, including juvenile detention, lengthy probation, and required counseling. Your child's education may also be affected if they have been ordered to find an alternative school or have been expelled.

Can a 14 year old be charged with assault? ›

A juvenile can be charged with simple assault for injuring another person, threatening to or attempting to injure another person or even making another person afraid. In this day and age, fights, threats, and roughhousing that were once considered a part of growing up can lead to serious criminal charges.

Can you become a lawyer with a criminal record Australia? ›

Section 9 of the Legal Practitioner Act NSW states that anyone wanting to become a practising lawyer must disclose if they have ever been convicted of an offence in Australia or any other country, along with information regarding: The nature of the offence.

Can you be a nurse with a criminal record Australia? ›

Under this National Law, an application form for registration as a nurse requires an individual to disclose their criminal history, which includes every conviction, every plea of guilty or finding of guilt, and every charge made against a person.

Does criminal record expire? ›

As mentioned earlier, not all convictions are cleared from an individual's record and some remain forever. This means that certain crimes will always show up on a DBS check, regardless of the level of check. Serious crimes of a violent or sexual nature will always remain on a person's criminal record.

Can a 16 year old date a 30 year old in Australia? ›

In general, there are no laws that say when a young person can start dating another person (but there are laws about doing sexual activity with another person, which we explain below!)

Can a 15 year old date a 18 year old in Australia? ›

The law criminalises people who have sex with under-16-year-olds. So, if an 18-year-old is having consensual sex with a 15-year-old, the 18-year-old is guilty of an offence and the 15-year-old is the victim.

Can 10 year olds go to jail in Australia? ›

Despite pressure to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Australia, a child as young as 10 can still be given a custodial sentence in almost all states and territories.

Can I get a job with a criminal record? ›

Yes, you can. However, it's very possible that after finding out about your criminal record and reviewing your disclosure, an employer will decide to hire you. “No matter what has happened in your past, that should not dictate your future.

Can I clear my criminal record after 5 years? ›

You may apply for expungement if: - The offence was committed when you were under 18 years of age. - Five years have lapsed after the date of conviction in the case of a Schedule 1 offence.

What jobs can you not do with a criminal record? ›

However, some jobs are exempt from this rule, including:
  • Jobs that involve working with children or vulnerable adults.
  • Senior roles in banking or finance.
  • Law enforcement roles, including the police and judiciary.
  • The military, navy and air force.
  • Work involving national security.
Jun 19, 2017

Can you work in Australia with a criminal record? ›

It does not matter how long ago the conviction was or how minor—: Australian visa applicants must declare all criminal convictions. If a person fails to declare a criminal conviction, entry to Australia may be denied.

Can you become a lawyer with a criminal record Australia? ›

Section 9 of the Legal Practitioner Act NSW states that anyone wanting to become a practising lawyer must disclose if they have ever been convicted of an offence in Australia or any other country, along with information regarding: The nature of the offence.

What countries can you not go to with a criminal record? ›

List of Countries You Can't Travel to With a Criminal Record
  • Argentina.
  • Australia.
  • Canada.
  • China.
  • Cuba.
  • India.
  • Iran.
  • Israel.

How do other countries know if you have a criminal record? ›

Most foreign officials do not check for criminal records, but they have every right to do so if they choose. Each country can handle criminal records however they want, depending on their laws. INTERPOL tracks international criminal records in their database for all participating countries.


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