Queensland’s Childrens Court chief judge has overturned “excessive’’ sentences handed to two children by a Richlands Childrens Court magistrate for relatively “minor’’ crimes.
In one case, a 15-year-old first-time offender from a disadvantaged family – given the pseudonym ‘Beatrix’ – received 12-months’ probation after pleading guilty at the first available opportunity to “minor drug offences and possessing tainted property”.
In the second, a 14-year-old boy – with the pseudonym ‘Horatio’ – received six months’ probation for “one charge of shoplifting” and after having “annoyed” the presiding magistrate who declared the child’s repeated criminal behaviour a “big raspberry blown at the laws of this state”.
Queensland Childrens Court President Judge Deborah Richards, in decisions delivered on Wednesday 4 August set aside the punishments meted out in both cases, saying they were “clearly” or “manifestly excessive” and replaced them with referrals to a restorative youth justice process.
Restorative justice is the principle of diverting offenders to rehabilitative services such as pre-court mediation, community conferencing between the offender and victim, and engaging with specialised programs to reform criminal behaviour.
The decisions come in the same week a Brisbane District Court judge quashed a disqualified driving conviction imposed by a Richlands magistrate against a homeless man found asleep in his car.
Judge Richards, in a three-page decision for Horatio, said the child “seems to have particularly annoyed the Magistrate” because the shoplifting offence he had pleaded guilty to on 13 May (2021) occurred on the same day he was reprimanded for two separate stealing offences.
“In this instance, the offence itself was minor,” Judge Richards said. “The stealing involved the theft of a carton of Corona beers and two bottles of wine. The total value of the property was $80 and most of the property was recovered.
“There was a circumstance of aggravation in that (Horatio) committed the offence on the day he was reprimanded in relation to two other stealing offences. This seems to have particularly annoyed the Magistrate who (stated the following during sentencing)”.
Magistrate: “It’s a blatant – big raspberry blown at the laws of this state. The police get involved. They’ve got to go and track him down, recover property. The people lose $80 or part thereof because only something – only part of it’s recovered, and he thinks it’s probably a big joke. Probably thinks it’s a big joke today.”
Judge Richards said during a hearing to review the magistrate’s decision in the case of Horatio – under the Youth Justice Act 1992 (Qld) – the prosecution acknowledged the sentence imposed was excessive.
“The Crown concedes that the six months’ probation for one charge of shoplifting is clearly excessive, it is disproportionate to the gravity of the offending and there was no additional purpose for imposing probation,” she said.
In the case of Beatrix, Judge Richards said: “The sentence is manifestly excessive.”
“A term of 12-months’ probation (the maximum amount of probation that could have been imposed) for a first-time offender for minor drug offences and possessing tainted property, was outside the sentencing range.”
In both cases, Judge Richards also spoke to the hardship and disadvantage the children had experienced during their short lives.
“(Horatio) was born deaf, which was not discovered until he was three years old. He had intensive treatment until he was seven years old, at which time he regained his hearing,” she said.
“Despite this, the child cannot read or write. His mother has been his full time carer since he was five years old, however his mother has had significant health problems herself.
“(Beatrix’s) parents were refugees from Tanzania … (and she) is not currently attending school … (but is) looking for work in the construction industry.”
In a separate case, Childrens Court Judge Ian Dearden on July 27 set aside the “unlawful” sentence given to a 15-year-old public transport fare evader by a Richlands Court magistrate.
In that case, the magistrate sentenced a child identified as ‘JEY’, who had no legal representation, but was permitted to plead guilty to a single charge of fare evasion under the Transport Operation (Passenger Transport) Regulation 2018.
Judge Dearden said: “The child (JEY) was not legally represented at sentence and was sentenced to 20 hours of unpaid community service with no conviction recorded.
“It is common ground (between the prosecution and lawyers for JEY) that the penalty imposed was unlawful.”
Judge Dearden said the appropriate penalty in the circumstances was a reprimand.
Read the Horatio decision.
Read the Beatrix decision.
Read the JEY decision.