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Mike’s Youth Legal Service Interview

“I work for the Youth Legal Service. The reason we are here is to make sure that young people who might be marginalised from having access to the court systems can actually gain access. The thing about the law is that it can cost to go there – court fees and seeing lawyers afford to see us. We’re a free service and don’t charge. We do what’s known as Duty Lawyer at the Children’s Courts around the metro area. There are about five or six of us. What happens is, one of the solicitors goes out on the day that the particular court is open and does the duty lawyer thing, which means people come in and initially see us and talk to us about their issue, and then we go and represent them in court. We’ve been around since 1985, so a lot of the other services know we exist.

We usually don’t go to court for anybody over the age of 18. About that age and below the age of 25, we’ll give advice over the phone, and we’ll help people prepare for their own cases and may help them with a civil jurisdiction – which is suing another party for a loss they believe they’ve suffered. About 85% of our clients are aged between 15 to 17 years old. We usually end up dealing with property offences like burglaries, stealing cars or basic theft offences. We do obviously have assaults, some fairly serious, but they’re in the minority.

The Children’s Courts have a huge range of options, ranging from actually doing nothing – which is Section 66 Dismissal under the Young Offenders Act – right up to detention and a whole range of orders in between. The Children’s Court Magistrate has discretion as to what it would like to order and what it believes is a suitable punishment, and the Act gives them that type of discretion. A vast majority of our clients don’t go inside because the courts come up with options way before that becomes an answer.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. It’s just awe- inspiring the amount of law that young people think they know. The most common one is that the police in this state have a legal right to ask any citizen their name and address, and you must comply. It’s the law. It’s codified black letter law! Young people, for some reason, take personal offence at that, and if they don’t believe they’ve committed a crime, they usually refuse, and as soon as they do that, they’ve committed a crime and can be arrested and taken away. The more they know about the law, the less likely they are to run into problems and have it imposed upon them. I don’t know where young people are getting their legal education from, but it’s not anywhere near the amount they need to know to stay out of trouble!