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Chief Magistrate: Mischievous criticism of Childrens Court undermining its legitimacy

Queensland’s Chief Magistrate has taken a swipe at recent “mischievous criticism” levelled at the courts over the handling of Childrens Court matters.

Chief Magistrate Judge Terry Gardiner said today that public criticism about the courts regarding the granting of bail to child offenders and limiting media access to Childrens Court hearings was undermining the legitimacy of the courts and should be deplored.

Judge Gardiner made the comments during a welcome ceremony for Queensland’s six newly sworn-in magistrates.

“You all come to the Court at a time when some people, for their own agendas, publicly attack the Court, whether it be over bail decisions or criticism for limiting media presence when reporting about children,” he said.

“The catchcries that ‘bail is a privilege not a right’, or that ‘the public have a right to know’,” are not expressions found in the Youth Justice Act.

“The court is not and should not be immune from informed criticism, but mischievous criticism that undermines the court’s legitimacy should be deplored.

“Forgotten is the prosecution’s right to review any bail decision if error (by the court) is alleged. A right seemingly never invoked.”

Last week a number of media organisations – including The Courier-Mail, ABC and television networks 7, 9 and 10 – unsuccessfully applied to be granted access to attend the first appearance of a 15-year-old boy charged with four counts of attempted murder.

The charges involved an alleged attack by four children on former Australian Wallabies rugby union player Toutai Kefu and his family after breaking into in their Coorparoo home, on Brisbane’s southside.

In Queensland, criminal matters involving children under the age of 18 are required to be dealt with in a closed court. However, the presiding magistrate or judge has a discretion to allow media to attend hearings where their attendance would not be prejudicial to the interest of the child.

On Friday 20 August, Childrens Court Magistrate Belinda Merrin said that under the Childrens Court Act the court must exclude from the courtroom everyone except those permitted in legislation to stay.

Ms Merrin said media should only be allowed access if the court was satisfied their “presence would not be prejudicial to the interests of the child”.

Ms Merrin said that, while the starting point for the majority of Queensland courts was that they remained open to the public, that was not the case in Childrens Court.

Judge Gardiner, in congratulating the new magistrates on their appointment, said: “Being a magistrate is not for the faint-hearted. My advice to you is to act in accordance with your oaths, to make decisions according to law and without fear, favour or affection.”

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