Last night our Principal and Legal Director, Dan Rogers was one of 5 panel members at the Politics in the Pub event held at Brisbane Powerhouse, an event organised by the New Farm Neighbourhood Centre. The topic for discussion was ‘Is being tough on youth justice the weak solution?’  Dan was joined by other experts in the youth justice system, including Katrina Jefferson from the Youth Advocacy Centre, Debbie Kilroy OAM from Sisters Inside Inc, Maggie Munn from Amnesty International Australia, and Professor Tamara Walsh from the University of Queensland. The topic was chosen in the wake of recent debate over the Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (Qld) (‘the Bill’) which proposes laws that will, among other things:

  • reverse the presumption of bail for children who reoffend in certain circumstances;
  • impose GPS tracking devices on children aged 16 and 17 years old; and
  • make breach of bail an aggravating factor in the sentencing of children.

The night begun with some context – we were told that of the children currently on remand for an offence in Queensland, 80% of those children are known to Child Services.  Of this group, 52% of children who come into contact with the criminal justice system usually only come before the courts once or twice. Therefore, the remaining 48% are recidivist children. It is currently estimated that only 400 children belong to this recidivist group.

When asked how governments should respond to the issue of youth justice and youth crime, Dan stated that the central challenge for legislatures is whether they will move beyond the politically attractive, quick fix solutions towards solutions that address the deep rooted social disadvantage many of these children often face. He concluded that quick-fix, band aid solutions, such as those in the Bill, will not contribute to a reduction in youth crime.

Dan also spoke about the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) (‘the Act’). He noted that under this Act, children are afforded a number of unique rights that must be afforded to them in their interactions with the State in a criminal justice setting. In particular, section 33 of the Act recognises that children in criminal processes are especially vulnerable due to their age, and that they require special protections. Subsection 33(1) ensures that children detained must be segregated from all detained adults. This acknowledges that children have greater needs than adults and the risks associated with children being detained with adults. Subsection 33(2) provides that when accused, children must brought to trial as quickly as possible. Lastly, subsection 33(3) states that when convicted, children must be treated in a manner appropriate for their age. This is likely to mean that if they are imprisoned, the State should ensure that they still have access to education and other recreational activities children are likely to enjoy.

Dan concluded that there is a very real risk that the proposed laws are a flagrant breach of the unique human rights afforded to children in the criminal justice setting.

The night concluded with a note of optimism – each of the speakers noted that they are hopeful there can be movement forward on this issue that will divert children away from custodial sentences in favour of more rehabilitative approaches.

Thank you to the Powerhouse and the New Farm Neighbourhood Centre for a wonderful night.