New criminal laws have been passed for juvenile offenders in Queensland with a substantial overhaul of the Qld Childrens Court process. These changes are substantial in that they remove the requirement for a sentence of imprisonment to be a sentence of last resort and open up the children’s court for repeat offenders. They go further in that the prohibition against reporting children’s names before, during and after proceedings has been removed for alleged repeat offenders.
Changes to Qld Childrens Court
The changes to Qld Childrens Court include:
- Permit repeat offenders’ identifying information to be published;
- Open the Childrens Court for youth justice matters involving repeat offenders;
- Create a new offence where a child commits a further offence while on bail;
- Permit childhood findings of guilt for which no conviction was recorded to be admissible in court when sentencing a person for an adult offence;
- Provide for the automatic transfer from detention to adult corrective services facilities of 17 year olds who have six months or more left to serve in detention;
- Provide that, in sentencing any adult or child for an offence punishable by imprisonment, the court must not have regard to any principle, whether under statute or at law, that a sentence of imprisonment (in the case of an adult) or detention (in the case of a child) should only be imposed as a last resort;
- Allow children who have absconded from Sentenced Youth Boot Camps to be arrested and brought before a court for resentencing without first being given a warning; and
- Make a technical amendment to the Youth Justice Act 1992.
Naming repeat offenders
The amendments limit the application of the existing prohibition on publishing identifying information about a child the subject of proceedings to first-time offenders only.
This means repeat offenders who have been found guilty of another offence will be able to be identified and reported in the media, both during and after proceedings against them. In the past children charged with criminal offences, have been able to escape the public scrutiny of their identities being published or reported on the media. This has been said to reflect the important principle that children make mistakes, and should be given an opportunity to learn from them. These new changes will remove that privilege and expose repeat offenders to media exposure.
The Qld Childrens Court can make an order at any time during a proceeding prohibiting publication of a repeat offender’s identifying information where it considers this to be in the interests of justice. This power may be exercised on the court’s own discretion or on application by a specified party.
Opening the Childrens Court
The Qld Childrens Court will remain closed when hearing matters in relation to first- time offenders. The legislation provides that Qld Childrens Court proceedings under the Youth Justice Act 1992 which involve repeat offenders are to be held in open court. Childrens Court proceedings are currently only required to be held in open court where a judge is exercising jurisdiction to hear and determine a charge on indictment. The court will have the discretion to hold some or all of a proceeding in relation to a repeat offender in closed court where it considers this to be in the interests of justice.
Imprisonment no longer a sentence of last resort
The amendments remove the principle that detention or prison is a sentence of last resort from both the Youth Justice Act 1992 and the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992.
New offence of committing an offence while on bail
There is a new offence of committing a further offence while on bail. This new offence will be taken to have been committed where a finding of guilt is made against the young person in relation to that further offence.
The maximum penalty for the new breach of bail offence will be 20 penalty units or one year’s imprisonment. This is half the maximum penalty under section 29 of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 for breach of a condition of bail by an adult
Transfer to adult prisons for offenders when they turn 17 years.
The Youth Justice Act 1992, currently provides for a court to order in certain circumstances that an offender be transferred to an adult correctional facility on turning 18 (or on turning 17 where they have previously been held in prison under a sentence or on remand). The ammendment provides that all offenders sentenced to a period of detention must be automatically transferred to an adult correctional facility on turning 17 if, at that time, they have at least 6 months left to serve in detention. If an offender is already 17 at the time of sentence to a period of detention of six months or more, that sentence will automatically be taken to be a sentence to a period of imprisonment to be served in a corrective services facility.
In a proceeding against an adult for an offence, any childhood finding of guilt for which no conviction was recorded will be admissible for the purposes of sentencing. This includes where the adult offence was committed or the proceeding against the adult started before commencement of the legislation.
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For specific legal advice you should immediately contact Gatenby Criminal Lawyers on (07) 5580 0120.
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