Under 17

All the rights that apply to everyone apply to under 17 year olds, but they also entitled to and receive extra help, outlined below.

Under New Zealand Law:

  • An under 10 year old is a “child”, and cannot be charged with any criminal offence. Any offending will be dealt with by Police diversion, a family group conference or the Family Court.
  • Once 10, a child can be charged only with murder or manslaughter.
  • A 14, 15, 16 year old and some 17 year olds (depending on the charge) is a “young person” and can be charged with other offences. They will be dealt with by Police diversion, a family group conference or the Youth Court, where the aim will be to help the young person learn from their mistakes and be more responsible.
  • Under 18s can have a lawyer and, must have another adult of their choosing present when the Police question them or take a statement from them.
  • An under 18 can be stopped by the Police if they believe they are in a situation that is bad for them, should be at school or if they are driving a motor vehicle.
  • Police can take an under 18 home, or place them in the care of a social worker if the under 19 does not want to go home and the Police think that the under 18’s physical or mental health is seriously at risk. This can be anywhere, any time of the day.
Explanations of jargon:


Diversion is used to keep children and young people out of court.

  • It can include a warning or formal caution from the Police or a visit from a Police youth aid officer.
  • Its purpose is to lower the likelihood of re-offending, and avoid getting a conviction in their record.
  • It can help put them in touch with other agencies to help with anger or counselling.
  • If they damage anyone’s property they will repay the victim.
  • Police will choose how to deal with the offending depending on whether the person has been in trouble before, how serious the offence is and how many offences are being dealt with.


A warning means that the under 18 has come to the attention of the Police, but no action will be taken at this time. Although, if it happens again, expect action to be taken.

  • Details of the offending is kept on internal Police records.
  • Police may write to the parents of the under 17 year old.

“Formal Caution”

A formal caution is a more formal warning.

  • The under 18 will go to the Police station with their parents, and the offence will be noted on internal Police records.
  • If the under 18 gets into trouble again, the issue will be dealt with more seriously.


An under 18 year old can only be arrested if:

  • they have committed a serious crime such as murder or aggravated robbery or;
  • there is a warrant for their arrest or;
  • they keep breaking the law or;
  • they do not turn up in court or;
  • it will stop them interfering with witnesses or evidence.

“Family Group Conference”

This is a meeting of the family or whanau/aiga, the Police and others to discuss the offending, which:

  • helps keep the under 18 away from the court
  • addresses the offending and decides what should be done
  • provides a way for family to support the under 18, and involve the victim
  • will be called if the under 18, is arrested and taken to Youth Court and do not deny the charge
  • if the under 18, has been charged, but not arrested, they cannot go to the Youth Court unless a FGC has been held
  • if the under 18 has not been arrested but has been warned, cautioned or visited by Police Youth Aid, a FGC can be held if the Police think there needs to be further action.

“Youth Court”

Youth Court is only for young people aged 14, 15, 16 and 17 (depending on the charge) If the charge is not too serious, the focus will be on getting the family to decide what should be done.

  • it is more informal than adult courts
  • it has separate judges who specialise in Youth Court
  • hearings are closed to the general public
  • news reporters can be there, but cannot publish names or any information that could lead to people’s identity and can only publish other information if Judge gives his or her permission
  • the under 18 will usually be asked to complete community work, or be under the supervision of Child Youth and Family or someone else

“Adult Court”

An under 18 year old’s case can be transferred to the adult court if they commit serious offences such as murder, burglary, rape or serious assault or they keep getting into trouble.