Youth Justice Amendments:
A Step Back in the Right Direction?
The Queensland Government has recently flagged amendments to the State’s youth justice regime, with the Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 currently at the committee stage. Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath has framed these proposed amendments in opposition to the changes made by the previous Government, which were passed in 2012 and 2014, saying the ‘tough on crime’ stance of the previous amendments has not been successful.
This Bill will work in concert with the Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 to reinstate many practices and principles that were altered in the previous parliamentary term. This amending statute has been the subject of a parliamentary committee report, which was handed down in March 2016.
The 2016 Bill contains various changes to the youth justice system, but most notably it removes the transfer to adult correctional facilities of 17 year olds who have six months or more of their sentence left serve. This threshold has been increased to 18 years. Former changes which required court proceedings to be open for non-first time juvenile offenders unless a court closure was required in the interests of justice have also been deleted from the Childrens Court Act 1992 (Qld).
The 2016 Bill also restores to courts the power, where appropriate, to refer young offenders to youth justice conferences, in which the offender, the victim and other concerned persons may engage in a dialogue about the offending and what can be done about it. In 2012, this referring power was restricted to police officers. Importantly, courts must now consider referring young offenders to a ‘restorative justice process’ before sentence is passed. These processes allow diversion of young offenders away from more intensive and expensive sentencing and punishment processes and provides an alternate means of granting some satisfaction and closure all parties to the offending.
The 2015 Bill moves against other changes made by the previous Government, principally the removal of youth boot camps and breach of bail offences for children. Importantly, however, the sentencing principal of imprisonment as a last resort has also been reinstated, bringing Queensland back into line with all other States and Territories in Australia. Also important is the deemed inadmissibility of unrecorded childhood convictions in sentencing adult offenders.
Perhaps something that the new amendments overlook is the status generally of 17 year olds in the youth justice system. While 17 year olds will no longer be transferred to adult prisons from juvenile detention centres where they are already serving a sentence, children of this age group are treated as adults as the Youth Justice Act 1992 (Qld) (previously the Juvenile Justice Act 1992 (Qld)) does not and has never applied to persons who are 17 years of age or older.
This has long been criticised and is out of step with other jurisdictions, as well as Australia’s human rights obligations with Queensland’s regime having received reproach from both the Australian Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Whether this is something either side of politics is interested in addressing remains to be seen, but the currently proposed amendments are positive steps to a more just and effective youth justice system.
If you have any questions on these amendments or need legal advice relating to a youth, please contact our office and arrange to speak to one of our solicitors.