Proctor : March 2018
35 PROCTOR | March 2018 A new day for 17-year-old offenders Queensland youth justice now in national step by Melissa Raassina Amendments to Queensland’s youth justice laws have come into effect, treating 17-year-old offenders as children rather than adults. A law that was put in place over 27 years ago and since abandoned by all other Australian states and territories has now been overturned. Advocacy Queensland Law Society, policy committees and the wider legal profession have called for this change for many years, including mention in the 2015 Queensland State Election Call to Parties Document. At that time, the Labor Party (Opposition) had committed to looking at the issue closely. Once in government, the party addressed the laws, ultimately dispatching them in 2016. In September 2017, the State Government announced the commencement of removal of 17-year-old offenders from the adult criminal justice system. At the time, the Society remarked that juvenile offenders would have a greater chance to rehabilitate in the youth justice system, rather than being exposed to hardened criminals in the adult justice system. The regulation The amendment sees 17-year-old offenders treated by the courts as juveniles, rather than being processed through the adult justice system. The changes took effect on 12 February 2018, and were applauded by many in the legal profession, bringing Queensland into line with all other Australian jurisdictions and also the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. 1 The passing of the Youth Justice and Other Legislation (Inclusion of 17-year-old Persons) Amendment Act in 2016 amended the age that a person could be charged as an adult from 17 to 18 years of age. 2 This change was stated to be a part of the Queensland Government’s commitment to breaking the cycle of youth offending. Under the Act, children aged 17 can access the same support and services that children 16 and under can access. This includes access to legal advice, separate conditions for watch-houses, access to a support person when interviewed by police, and other age and developmentally- appropriate interventions. Also commencing on 12 February was the transitional regulation supporting the Act.3 This regulation transitions 17 year olds currently in the adult justice system into youth justice. These changes include: • All 17-year-old offenders on community- based orders transferring to youth justice supervision • All 17-year-old offenders in adult custody being eligible for transfer to a youth detention centre if it is in the child’s best interest and safe to do so. The regulation also transfers court proceedings to the youth justice system: • if it is the first time the matter is before the court • following the completion of a hearing (where the hearing has been part-heard) • where a community-based order is breached. In 2017, Queensland also introduced supervised bail accommodation. 4 The aim of this was to help children on bail make positive changes and, as a result, to see the number of young people in detention on remand decrease. With the national average of children on remand at 57%, and Queensland at 80%, this is a much-needed initiative. The first two services opened in Townsville in December 2017 and January 2018, with more set to open across Queensland. The children who stay at these services will be under supervision 24 hours a day, seven days a week, be involved in activities to assist them in building better futures, and be kept in small numbers. They will be required to abide by strict conditions such as curfews and bail conditions. The reforms also include: • changes to Queensland detention centres • recruitment of new frontline staff for courts and Youth Justice Service Centres • more resources for courts and prosecutors to ensure timely processes • provision of after-hours legal services to young people and increased funding for Legal Aid Queensland. Changes to detention centres will include 83 accepted recommendations from the Independent Review of Youth Detention,5 provided to the Queensland Attorney-General and Minister for Justice in December of 2016. Court resourcing will include two more full-time equivalent magistrates. Where to from here? Changes to youth justice in Queensland have been met with positive response from the legal profession and community, with many more changes on the horizon as part of the youth justice amendments and transitional regulation. Practitioners can keep up to date with the changes via the Queensland Department of Justice’s website, justice.qld.gov.au. The QLS Facebook page also showcases a ‘Facebook Live’ video where Damian Bartholomew, deputy chair of the QLS Children’s Law Committee, discusses the changes in more detail. facebook.com/ qldlawsociety Criminal law Melissa Raassina is acting Proctor editor and media and public relations advisor at Queensland Law Society. Notes 1 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, unicef.org.au/Upload/UNICEF/Media/Our%20work/ childfriendlycrc.pdf. 2 Youth Justice and Other Legislation (Inclusion of 17-year-old Persons) Amendment Act 2016, legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/ ACTS/2016/16AC058.pdf. 3 Youth Justice (Transitional) Regulation 2018, legislation.qld.gov.au/view/html/asmade/sl- 2018-0003 . 4 Department of Justice, Queensland Government (2017). Inclusion of 17-year-olds in the youth justice system, justice.qld.gov.au/corporate/ business-areas/youth-justice/inclusion-of-17-year- old-persons. 5 Review of Youth Detention Centres Report (2017), youthdetentionreview.qld.gov.au/review-of-youth- detention-centres-report-updated-28-June-2017.pdf.