The most anxious people we encounter in our practice as criminal defence lawyers are often not the client. They are the parents of the client, who have been contacted by Police out of the blue. This experience is particularly distressing if the client is a child or young person.
It might be an event at a high school party that got out of hand, it may be an allegation relating to driving, it may be an allegation made by a former girlfriend or boyfriend.
Children and young people can be prosecuted for crimes and it is becoming more common, particularly in relation to allegations of violence or sexual offending. What makes representing child accused tricky is that young people are less likely to talk about things in an open and frank matter. They are also inexperienced and likely terrified.
That is why you need an appropriately qualified and experienced criminal defence lawyer to guide you and your child through the process and give age-appropriate advice at the right time.
1. Engage with the Police
The law is very clear that accused people must know the nature of the allegations that they are to be interviewed about, before the interview occurs, in order to obtain legal advice. Police are far more likely to openly discuss allegations with lawyers, than with the parents of a child accused. Parents may panic or misunderstand what is being said to them. They may make comments that are unhelpful. And they may rush to comply with requests made by Police, when they should have taken their time.
The moment you become aware that a Police member is seeking to interview your child, engage an appropriately experienced criminal defence lawyer to contact the Police, ascertain what the allegations are, and become the contact point for your child. Once the child is interviewed, your lawyer should remain in contact with the Police to keep updated about the investigation and whether any charges will be laid.
2. Take your time
Our office has a wealth of experience advising and representing young people. However, unlike adults, young people need time to open up, express themselves and build a rapport with their lawyer. This is particularly so if the allegations are upsetting and intimate.
So, don’t let a Police Officer rush you or your child to get in and speak with them. Your child will be overwhelmed and unprepared. In our experience, you need to spend at least two significant sessions with a criminal defence lawyer to really explore the allegations. Once a criminal defence lawyer is engaged, they should liaise with the Police regarding an appropriate time for a record of interview, allowing for sufficient time to confer with your child and ensure that they are properly advised.
3. Making your child or young person feel comfortable
Representing young people is as much about engaging with them in a way they understand, and feel comfortable with, as the legal advice they receive. Criminal defence lawyers representing young people must speak in an age-appropriate manner, spend the time to get to know them and make them feel comfortable. They may even dress in a way that makes the child feel more relaxed.
Often we will ask to speak with child clients alone, after a period of time of getting to know them. There may be things that they are embarrassed to talk about in front of Mum and Dad. This is particularly so if the allegations are sexual in nature. Your child’s lawyer needs to make your child feel comfortable talking to them. Only then can their lawyer assess whether your child should participate in a record of interview (ie, answer questions) or say ‘no comment’.
Your child may need to answer questions in a record of interview, and give a version of events, which may be confronting and embarrassing. Part of the role of a competent and experienced criminal defence lawyer is to make your child or young person feel comfortable enough to go through the interview process.
4. Managing the Socials
Young people live their lives online. Often messages and posts on social media will be valuable evidence, to the Police and the Defence. Accordingly, we often conduct a review of our child client’s social media. We ask that they provide all relevant materials to us as soon as possible, particularly if the material may be lost. We also provide advice in relation to privacy settings and measures that can be put in place to avoid their social media being targeted and compromised.
5. If your child is charged with an offence
Most criminal matters involving children proceed through the Children’s Court and, whilst the offences are the same as those that adults face, the sentencing outcomes are very different. There are far more sentencing outcomes available for children than adults. There are also far more services and supports available for children than adults.
If a criminal defence lawyer doesn’t have a robust child practice, they are not the one of you. Rather, you should ensure that your child is represented by a criminal defence lawyer who is familiar with the Children’s Court, the Children, Youth and Families Act and who appears regularly for child clients.
We hope that this information has helped anxious parents out there. If your child has been approached by Police, they need legal advice specific to them. Our firm is experienced in defending children and young people. Contact us immediately to arrange an initial client consultation with one of our experienced and caring criminal defence lawyers. More information on Children’s Court matters can also be found here.
Galbally Parker Lawyers