Proctor : April 2017
16 PROCTOR | April 2017 Toward better justice for children New committee and practice directions Many criminal lawyers will have little contact with the Childrens Court. The experience of judges and magistrates in this court is that many practitioners are unaware of the ways in which children are treated differently from adults in the criminal justice system. This article is the first in a series examining the Childrens Court and the youth justice system as a whole. In mid-2016, Judge Shanahan, as President of the Childrens Court, established the Childrens Court Committee. The purpose of the committee is to establish a new case management process for Childrens Court criminal matters, supported by any necessary practice directions. The committee is also investigating legislative, policy and practice issues that can strengthen the present youth justice system. This includes providing feedback to government from those practising in the area about potential reforms to the system. The committee is chaired by the President of the Childrens Court and its members represent stakeholders in the youth justice system such as: • Deputy Chief Magistrate O’Shea • Queensland Law Society • Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (Queensland) • Legal Aid Queensland • Bar Association of Queensland • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service • community legal centres • Queensland Police Service • Youth Justice Services • Department of Justice and Attorney-General • Child Safety Services. The committee is considering ways to improve the effectiveness of Queensland’s youth justice system by addressing delays and reducing both the numbers of young people on remand and the lengths of remand periods. This has culminated in the production of two new practice directions intended to improve the efficiency of the court and to reduce the time taken to finalise children’s criminal cases. Childrens Court Practice Direction 1 of 2017 applies to sentence proceedings in the Childrens Court constituted by a judge (the Childrens Court of Queensland). It is aimed at speeding up the sentencing of children who are pleading guilty. It requires practitioners to identify pleas of guilty as a matter of priority. In matters in which a pre-sentence report is likely to be ordered, practitioners must liaise with the DPP and the court to organise an arraignment at the earliest opportunity so that the report can be ordered. Children who are remanded in custody should be arraigned by video link, if appropriate.