The NSW scheme
One unique aspect of the scheme that is different from other statutory schemes is the identity of conference convenors. These are individuals who live and work in the local communities and who are engaged by contract to organise and facilitate youth justice conferences as needed. They are not subject to the provisions of the Public Sector Employment and Management Act 2002 (NSW). Particular effort has been expended to design and use innovative recruitment, selection and training methods in co-operation with Indigenous community members and community people from non-English speaking backgrounds. These tasks are the responsibility of conference administrators.
Conference administrators have power under the Act to question police decisions to refer children and young people to youth justice conferences. They can question the validity of admissions made by children in police interviews. These are unusual checks on police decision making that are not found in any of the other statutory schemes.
Children's Court magistrates have powers under the Act to caution or refer to a conference. They must notify the relevant police Local Area Commander that they have done so. This power constitutes a final check on exercises of discretionary powers by police in cases where children have admitted the offence to police and should have been diverted from court by way of police caution or referral to a conference.
Admission & consent
The Act also specifically permits children who consent to be cautioned or to participate in a youth justice conference to exercise the right to withdraw their consent at any time prior to the caution or conference and insist that a court deal with the matter. It also permits investigating police officers to change their mind about the decision to caution or refer to a conference.
Specific provisions are made in the Act concerning the principles and purposes, preparation for, location and conduct of, and participation in youth justice conferences, and the purpose, nature and content of any outcome plans made at a conference. Families, extended families, victims and their supporters, police, and the child's lawyer are all entitled to attend. Victims who choose not to attend in person may send a representative on their behalf. Others, such as respected community elders, interpreters and skilled professionals may be invited to attend where appropriate. However, convenors may exclude even those people who are eligible under the Act to attend the conference, or eject them from the conference, if they might frustrate or are frustrating the purpose or conduct of the conference, or if their presence is not in the best interests of the child. In making this decision, the convenor must take the child's views into account.
Conferences are able to be conducted in any way that suits the particular participants and that complies with the provisions of the Act.
While decisions concerning outcome plans should be reached by consensus from all participants, outcome plans are enforceable only when agreed to by both the child and the victim in person. The victim's agreement is not required if they do not personally attend the conference.
Where participants fail to agree on an outcome plan, the convenor must notify the administrator, who must then refer the matter back to the police, or to the court, that made the referral.
Conferences may be reconvened to reconsider outcome plans where it is in the interests of justice to do so, or where the agreed plan has become unsuitable or unworkable. Victims must be consulted before this step is taken, and the child must agree to the new plan, but if victims choose not to attend the reconvened conference, their agreement is not required for the new plan.
Conference administrators are responsible for monitoring the completion of outcome plans. If a child satisfactorily completes an outcome plan, no further proceedings may be taken against the child for the offence. Where a child fails to do this, the administrator must send a notice to the body that first referred the child for the conference, and proceedings may be commenced or continued against the child for the offence. All participants at the conference must be notified about whether the child has satisfactorily completed the plan agreed to at that conference.
The publication or broadcast of the names of, or information that identifies, children dealt with under the Act is strictly prohibited, as is the disclosure of records to unauthorised persons. Interventions must not be disclosed as part of a child's criminal history except for restricted purposes. Investigating officials may act on information revealed at a caution or conference about other offences that are not the reason for the caution or conference.
The Act became law in NSW on 6 April 1998. The first youth justice conference was held in June 1998.
The Youth Justice Conferencing Directorate located in the Central Support Office of Juvenile Justice in Sydney is responsible for the overall operation of youth justice conferences in New South Wales. 18 conference administrators are responsible for the local operation of the scheme. They are located in Juvenile Justice Community Offices around the state. A clerical officer supports the administrator in each location. All administrators now have a pool of conference convenors, with about 350 youth justice conference convenors in the whole of New South Wales. Convenors come from a wide variety of backgrounds and all walks of life. Some have full time employment, others are retired or engaged in a range of casual work. After undertaking training convenors are assessed as competent to organise and facilitate youth justice conferences. They are engaged by contract for a one-year period. Competency is reassessed at the end of this period. Administrators allocate convenors to organise and facilitate a conference as and when necessary. Wherever possible, administrators match convenor characteristics to the parameters of a particular conference (for example, culture, gender and geography).