9 May 2024

Queensland Government cops criticism following change to youth justice laws

| James Day
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Premier Steven Miles said the changes would make it absolutely clear community safety had to be the priority for the courts. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The Queensland Government has been slammed for removing the principle of ‘detention as a last resort’ from its youth justice laws.

The principle affecting those aged between 10 and 18 will be replaced by a new clause, which will read:

“A child should be detained in custody, where necessary, including to ensure community safety, where other non-custodial measures of prevention and intervention would not be sufficient, and for no longer than necessary to meet the purpose of detention.”

As part of the state’s new Community Safety Plan, this clause among other amendments has been introduced to clarify that the legislature expects a child will be detained where necessary, including for community safety purposes.

However, the change has been criticised by the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), with managing lawyer Monique Hurley calling it a “politically calculated decision” by Premier Steven Miles.

“The Miles Government should stop playing politics and start working towards a future where no child is locked away behind bars in the first place,” said Ms Hurley.

“The evidence is clear that a responsible government would be building up community supports instead of enacting knee-jerk responses that only serve to lock more children away.”

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According to the HRLC, Queensland already locks up more children than any other Australian jurisdiction – especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are imprisoned at disproportionate rates.

Earlier this year, the Queensland Child Death Review Board report found two Indigenous boys died preventable deaths after being locked away for considerable periods in youth prisons.

Following the report, the HRLC and Change the Record called on the State Government to overhaul its youth legal system via the now disbanded Youth Justice Reform Select Committee and:

  • End the detaining of children in inhumane police watchhouse cells;
  • Raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14, with no exceptions;
  • Abolish reverse onus bail laws unnecessarily trapping children in police and prison cells.

In response to the criticism, Premier Steven Miles said there were cases in which detention was needed.

“We’ve seen a lot of misrepresentation and confusion suggesting that the courts are unable to impose detention,” said Premier Miles. “And I am concerned that the existing wording of the principle is undermining confidence in the laws and the courts.

“While prevention and intervention are essential, there are cases where detention is necessary for community safety.”

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The amendments are part of other law changes, which include:

  • Expanding the electronic monitoring trial
  • Streamlining the transfer of 18-year-olds into adult custody
  • Enhancing access to Children’s Court proceedings for victims, victims’ families and the media
  • Expanding Jack’s Law
  • Increasing the penalty for unlawful possession of a knife
  • Strengthening weapons licensing
  • Increasing penalties for dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death or grievous bodily harm
  • New offences for ramming emergency services vehicles and endangering police
  • Prohibiting ‘posting and boasting’ about certain offences on social media.

Premier Miles said the initiatives were evidence-based and had already helped to deliver a reduction in overall offences by young people by 10.7 per cent this year.

“While we know there will always be some level of crime, it’s our job as a government to put the plans in place to respond quickly and support those victims.”

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