This week, the Queensland Government introduced a Bill to repeal various youth justice reforms introduced by the former LNP government. This is a most welcomed move and the Government deserves true recognition for delivering on its pre-election commitment to repeal these ill considered laws. The Government’s media release can be found here.

The Government’s Bill will reintroduce the principle of detention as a last resort for children. It will also remove the provisions that allow for the identification of young offenders and for childhood offences to be admitted in adult sentencing proceedings. This change will help our State realign itself with international standards and norms concerning the treatment of children.

Young people occupy a vulnerable place in our society. They are still undergoing important brain development, and both behavioural psychology and neuroscience attest that adolescents are less able to control their impulses, plan ahead, and weigh the consequences of their decisions before acting. It is for the above reasons that international law has promoted the establishment of separate juvenile justice systems which treats young offenders differently to adult offenders. Diverting young people from formal court processes, form labels and from prison environments is most important.

This week’s Bill is very positive and, indeed, heartening news for someone who regularly acts for children facing the criminal justice system. It is also encouraging to see that the Government is continuing to consult on another important reform. That is; increasing the age of a Queensland adult from 17 to 18 years consistent with every other State and territory in this Country. I appreciate the difficult logistics of this change but this additional reform should occur as soon as possible.

Queensland is unique in treating 17 year olds as adults in the criminal justice system. In 2011, the Queensland Court of Appeal noted that “Queensland is now the only Australian jurisdiction where 17 year old offenders are dealt with, contrary to the Convention, in the adult criminal justice system and so can be sent to adult correctional facilities.  In all other Australian States and Territories, offenders under the age of 18 are sentenced within the youth justice system and are placed in youth detention centres.  This Queensland anomaly has been criticised by commentators who argue that Queensland is in breach of its obligations under the Convention.” (R v Loveridge [2011] QCA 32, [6])

By increasing the age of an adult offender to 18 years, less 17 year olds would be exposed to adult correctional centres. This is a good thing. The Queensland Court of Appeal has, for a long time, recognised that an adult jail is unlikely to have any rehabilitative effect and is in fact harmful in that it introduces young people to hardened criminals whom they might not otherwise meet and to hard drugs and it may subject them to the risk of injury or degrading conduct (R v Hamilton [2000] QCA 286).

As a society, we should be very careful to not allow children to become the subject of ‘law and order’ political campaigns. They deserve much, much better. These reforms show a great preparedness of Government to rise above such rhetoric.