QLS offers perspective on new youth justice Bill

In response to recent events, the Queensland Government introduced the Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (the Bill), which has been referred to the parliamentary Legal Affairs and Safety Committee for consideration.

According to the explanatory notes, the objectives of the Bill are to amend the Youth Justice Act 1999 (Qld) (Youth Justice Act) to respond to the characteristics of the offending behaviours of serious recidivist youth offenders and strengthen the youth justice bail framework. The Bill also enacts a range of amendments to the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) (PPRA) in relation to knife crime and hooning offences.

With the assistance of our Children’s Law, First Nations Legal Policy, Human Rights and Public Law and Criminal Law Committees, QLS prepared a submission to the parliamentary committee objecting to aspects of the Bill. On 22 March 2021, Damian Bartholomew (Chair of the QLS Children’s Law Committee) and Kristy Bell (Chair of the QLS Criminal Law Committee) appeared at the public hearing before the parliamentary Legal Affairs and Safety Committee to comment on the Bill.

In our submission and at the parliamentary committee public hearing, QLS acknowledged the impact of youth crime on the community and the grief of victims and their families. However, QLS submitted that the proposed amendments to the Bill were unlikely to effectively reduce youth crime.

Key points of our submission included:

  • Electronic monitoring devices for youth offenders present practical challenges, risks stigmatising and alienating youth offenders from their community, and does not address the underlying drivers of youth offending.
  • A presumption against bail for certain youth offenders may result in an influx of young people into already overburdened watch houses and youth detention facilities. Research shows that imprisonment can have criminogenic effects, resulting in increased reoffending and reforms that increase incarceration therefore may counterproductively increase recidivism.
  • Requiring bail decision-makers to consider undertakings of support by family members when making decisions about bail risks creating tensions among families and disadvantaging children with dysfunctional family or home environments, or children in state care.
  • The amendments to the PPRA that grant police officers greater powers to use hand-held scanners without a warrant are too broad and may be exercised arbitrarily and discriminatorily. Powers to use hand-held scanners should be subject to an officer holding a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a person has a knife of dangerous weapon.
  • Amendments to the PPRA with respect to ‘type 1 vehicle-related offences’ effectively reverse the onus of proof and interfere with the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Ultimately, QLS submitted that the reforms may exacerbate rather than reduce youth offending, and are likely to have a disproportionate impact on First Nations young people. Enduring solutions to youth crime require sustained investment in prevention and early intervention initiatives that provide a systemic response to the drivers of crime.

Useful resources:
Parliamentary committee inquiry page
QLS submission
QLS Spotlight on the state of youth justice in Queensland

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