QSAC: Courts opting more for restorative justice for youth offenders

Queensland’s superior courts are increasingly opting to sentence youth offenders to non-custodial terms by way of restorative justice orders, according to new data.

The Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council (QSAC) this morning released its sentencing trends for 2021-22 report, showing a rise in the number of children sentenced for indictable offences being diverted to restorative justice conferencing rather than detention or other community-based orders.

The report also shows that Queensland’s Magistrates Courts remain the busiest jurisdiction in settling criminal matters – resolving almost 95% of the 114,589 people sentenced by the courts during the reporting period.

However, QSAC Chair and eminent former Queensland’s Children Court President and District Court judge John Roberston said the most promising feature of this year’s report was data showing great understanding by the courts that restorative justice could be very effective in managing youth offending under the Youth Justice Act 1992.

QSAC, which was first established in December 2010, dismantled under an LNP Government in 2012 and reconstituted in November 2016, was established to provide independent research and advice, seek public views and promote community understanding of sentencing matters.

Mr Robertson said restorative justice orders were proving effective as young criminal offenders were more receptive to rehabilitation than adults.


“Sentencing children should never just be about punishment,” Mr Robertson said. “The current ‘lock ’em up’ attitude doesn’t take in account that we know children don’t always fully comprehend the seriousness of their actions and behaviour.

“Children are more open to rehabilitation than adults. That’s why, for suitable cases, we have a better chance of reducing a child’s risk of reoffending if they are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions.”

Court-ordered restorative justice usually requires children to meet with the victims of the crimes and their families to familiarise and see firsthand how their behaviour impacts others.

The Queensland Government and youth justice stakeholders have embraced restorative justice as an internationally recognised evidence-based response to criminal behaviour. The process addresses a juvenile criminal offence as more than an act of breaking the law. It examines the impact on society, and the harm caused to the victim, family relationships and the community.

“In my experience, being answerable to their victim can be more confronting for children than answering to a court,” Mr Robertson told QLS Proctor.

“Victims can ask the child questions and explain how their lives have been affected. This helps the child to begin to understand the impact of their behaviour and start to repair some of the harm their offending caused.”


QSAC’s data reveals there was an overall decrease in the number of children sentenced by magistrates in the Childrens Court for most offences, except for theft and unlawful entry offences (the most common offences).

In the higher courts, the most common sentencing offence was robbery, though the number of offenders also decreased over the past two years.

Probation remains the most common sentence imposed on children in the higher courts – with the number of cases increasing from 258 (2020-21) to 268 (2021–22).

As well as youth offending, the report shows current sentencing data trends of all people sentenced throughout Queensland in 2021-22.

Of the total of 114,589, 94.9% of matters were resolved in the lower Magistrates Court jurisdiction – with the most common offences being traffic and vehicle-related, and contraventions of domestic and family violence (DFV) orders.

The data also revealed a 15% drop in the number of cases dealt with by magistrates compared to the previous year.


There was a 5.7% increase in the number of cases sentenced in superior courts – the District Court and Supreme Court – with drug-related offences being the most common.

The other prominent adult offences were for intentional acts to injure others, such as common assault, and assaults causing bodily harm, which overtook charges for contravention of police directions, breaches of bail and DFV breaches.

Read the report.

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