Court upholds 11-year-old’s probation order for ‘not particularly serious’ crimes

Queensland’s chief Childrens Court judge has refused a 12-year-old boy’s request for a review of magistrate’s decision to hand him a year’s probation for a string of offences – described in court as being “not particularly serious” – including car theft and violent assault.

Queensland Childrens Court President Deborah Richards on Tuesday refused an application from the boy – referred to here as ‘John’ – for review of the sentence imposed in November last year for offences that included unlawful use of a car, assault causing bodily harm, fraud and receiving tainted property.

Judge Richards noted that John was 11 and in the care of Queensland’s Department of Child Safety at the time the offences were committed between October 18 and November 3 last year, and that “despite his young age had a seven-page juvenile criminal history”.

“(John’s) first appearance in court was 9 June 2020 when he pleaded guilty to a large number of property offences and some offences of violence,” Judge Richards said. “This offending covered the period from December 2019 to 18 May 2020 and takes up the first five pages of his criminal history.

“(John) was then sentenced again on 16 September 2020 when he received a nine-month probation order for offences committed between March and August 2020. He was on probation at the time of these offences … (and) is currently subject to a restorative justice order.”

Restorative justice orders involve conferencing between offenders and victims for offences committed by children and is an internationally recognised evidence-based response to criminal behaviour.

Judge Richards said John pleaded guilty to the most recent offences before a Childrens Court magistrate on November 4 (2020) and was sentenced to 12 months’ probation, with no convictions recorded.

“The offences are not particularly serious,” Judge Richards said in her three-page written decision. “The stealing involved the child entering the office of the group home in which he was living and taking $75 from a purse of (a) carer. The unlawful use of a motor vehicle involved him being a passenger in a (stolen) car. The receiving tainted property and fraud involved him being in the possession of a stolen credit card and using it to buy a drink.

“The most serious offence was the assault (causing) bodily harm where he threw a phone at his carer upon being told that he could not use the Wi-Fi in the (group) home.”

The court was told legal representatives for John had submitted that a probation order for a child so young was disproportionate to the offences committed and that a restorative justice referral would have been “appropriate given the nature of the offending and the age of the child”.

In dismissing the application for a sentence review, Judge Richards said: “Even at his tender age (John) has been involved in consistent offending since December 2019 through to this offending with little break in between.”

“He has assaulted this particular carer before and he has declined to participate in (rehabilitation assistance programs).

“Moreover, he was released from custody on the night before he (assaulted his carer), so was out (of detention) for less that 24 hours before he offended again.

“In all the circumstances it cannot be said that the sentence (imposed by the Childrens Court magistrate) was excessive and the application (for review) is refused.”

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