[1-1000] Introduction to the Children’s Court1

Last reviewed: June 2024

The Children’s Court of NSW is a unique specialist court that deals predominantly with youth crime and the care and protection of children and young persons. It is established and governed by the Children’s Court Act 1987 and derives its jurisdiction principally from the Children’s (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987, the Young Offenders Act 1997, and the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998. It also has the youth parole jurisdiction, pursuant to the Children (Detention Centres) Act 1987.

A brief history

The Children’s Court of NSW is one of the oldest children’s courts in the world. It is a specially created stand-alone jurisdiction whose origins can be traced back to 1850.

Historically, the criminal law did not distinguish between children and adults, and children were subject to the same laws and same punishments as adults and were dealt with in adult courts.

Indeed there were a number of children under 18 years transported to NSW in the First Fleet of 1788 as convicts.

The precise number of convicts transported is unclear, but among the 750–780 convicts, there were 34 children under 14 years of age and some 72 young persons aged 15–19.2

The first special provision in NSW recognising the need to treat children differently was the Juvenile Offender Act 1850.3 This legislation was enacted to provide speedier trials and to address the “evils of long imprisonment” of children.

Then, in 1866, further reforms were introduced, including the Reformatory Schools Act 1866,4 which provided for the establishment of reformatory schools as an alternative to prison, and the Destitute Children Act 1866,5 under which public and private “industrial schools” were established, to which vagrant and destitute children could be sent.6

Since those early beginnings there was a steady, albeit piecemeal, progression of reform that increasingly recognised and addressed the need for children to be treated differently and separately from adults in the criminal justice system.

Ultimately, in 1905, specialist, discrete Children’s Courts were established at Sydney, Newcastle, Parramatta, Burwood and Broken Hill. Two “Special Magistrates” appointed from the ranks of existing magistrates commenced sitting at Ormond House, Paddington in October 1905.

Since then, the idea of a separate specialist jurisdiction to deal with children has prospered and developed until the present time.

Over that time the legislation that governs the way in which the Children’s Court deals with cases has become more complex but the fundamental principle upon which the court was established remains the same: that children should be dealt with differently, and separately from adults.

The Children’s Court today

In 2024, the Children’s Court of NSW consists of a President, 16 specialist Children’s Magistrates and 14 Children’s Registrars. There are four courts specifically designated as Children’s Courts located at Parramatta, Surry Hills, Woy Woy and Broadmeadow.

Specialist Children’s Magistrates also deal with Children’s Court cases at shared Local Court facilities at Campbelltown, Dubbo, Sutherland, Wyong and in the Illawarra, Hunter, Mid-North Coast, Northern Rivers, Western and Riverina regions as well as Moss Vale and Goulburn. In rural and regional areas outside these locations, the sittings of the Children’s Court coincide with the sittings of the Local Court and are conducted by Local Court Magistrates.

The President of the Children’s Court is a District Court judge who has judicial leadership and other, statutory responsibilities as prescribed by the Children’s Court Act 1997, which include the administration of the court and the arrangement of sittings and circuits; the appointment of Children’s magistrates in consultation with the Chief Magistrate; convening meetings of Children’s magistrates and overseeing their training; convening and chairing meetings of the Advisory Committee which is responsible for providing advice to the Attorney General and Minister for Family and Community Services; and conferring regularly with community groups and social agencies on matters involving children and the court.

The current President is her Honour Judge Ellen Skinner.

[1-1020] Introduction to new Children’s Court magistrates

Last reviewed: June 2024

Welcome to the Children’s Court of NSW.

We hope the material in the Children’s Court of NSW Resource Handbook (the Resource Handbook) will be useful for your induction into the field. Please remember that your colleagues are very happy to help and you should not feel awkward about asking.

The Resource Handbook has been divided into two main types of matters that you will need to address — care and protection matters (from [2-1000]ff) and criminal matters (from [8-1000]ff). Some common issues are highlighted here but proceed to the type of matter you are dealing with to access resource material on specific issues, applicable Acts and Regulations, relevant court practice notes, important cases, useful articles, papers and information available in other media, such as podcasts.

Care and protection matters

Emergency care and protection orders, made under ss 43–45 Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 are common and it is worth discussing the procedure with someone before you embark on a care day.

Criminal matters

The Children’s Court is the State Parole Authority for most parolees who are sentenced for offences committed when they were under 18 years of age (see s 40 Children (Detention Centres) Act 1987). This jurisdiction is exercised by any Children’s Court magistrate (but not a Local Court magistrate sitting in the Children’s Court): s 41. Parole matters are dealt with only at Parramatta.

Judicial Commission of NSW Bench Books

The Local Court Bench Book, which has basic information about both care and protection matters and criminal matters, provides a useful introduction: links will be provided under the relevant headings in the Resource Handbook.

The Sentencing Bench Book has a chapter on the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987. The chapter refers to the leading cases involving this piece of legislation and other helpful material. You may access these bench books from here or from relevant points within the Resource Handbook.


For your convenience, legislation to all the relevant pieces of legislation has been hyperlinked within this Resource Handbook. The hyperlinks are to the JIRS collection of legislation. If you wish to access hard copies of the legislation, apart from printing out the relevant provision, you may wish to check the 4 volume looseleaf LexisNexis publication Criminal Practice and Procedure NSW, which is available within the court.

Other sources of information

Children’s Law News

A further source of help in care matters especially is Children’s Law News, which you can access online or receive by email. Children’s Law News contains judgments which may be of assistance, as well as articles and news regarding such areas as legislative change and practice matters. You are strongly encouraged to read all the issues of CLN to-date.

Criminal Law News from LexisNexis

This 16 page newsletter can be used to keep up-to-date with current developments in criminal law.

Useful websites

The following websites are helpful:

1Derived from an address by his Honour Judge Peter Johnstone, then President of the Children’s Court of NSW, NSW Bar Association CPD Conference, 30 March 2019, Sydney Hilton, Sydney.

2State Library of NSW Research Guides, “First Fleet Convicts” at www.sl.nsw.gov.au, accessed 15/5/23.

314 Vic No II, 1850.

430 Vic No IV, 1866.

530 Vic No II, 1866 (otherwise known as the Industrial Schools Act 1866).

6R Blackmore, “History of children’s legislation in New South Wales — the Children’s Court”, extracted from R Blackmore, The Children’s Court and community welfare in NSW, Longman Professional, 1989.