Human Rights Commissioner critical of youth justice changes

Queensland’s Human Rights Commissioner has taken a swipe at the tough youth justice laws proposed by the State Government, saying they are “rashly overriding human rights protections” for children.

The Queensland Government yesterday provided details of proposed laws to address spiralling youth crime, including measures making it harder for serious repeat offenders to secure bail pending resolution of unproven charges.

Last night Queensland Human Rights Commissioner Scott McDougall issued a statement after the Government revealed it would “remove protections of the Humans Rights Act 2019” to implement the laws.

“This is the first time a government in Queensland has sought to expressly remove human rights protections,” Mr McDougall said. “It is deeply concerning that the Government has sought to exclude the Human Rights Act from the operation of new provisions of the Youth Justice Act, because the Government accepts that they are incompatible with human rights.

“The Government must consult widely, and properly consider evidence-based solutions rather than rashly overriding human rights protections.”

Mr McDougall said the proposed law reforms were not “evidence-based”.


“The measures introduced are predicated on a flawed perception that recidivist children will respond positively to punitive measures,” he said.

“As countless reviews have found, including from former Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson, such measures do not work to reduce crime and therefore do not protect the rights of victims.”

Queensland’s Human Rights Act 2019, which became law on 1 January 2020, requires the government to justify limitations on human rights, including demonstrating how new legislation will achieve its purpose.

“This is yet another piecemeal reaction to youth crime, and with no overarching co-ordinated multi-agency plan to meaningfully address the causes of youth offending,” Mr McDougall said. “The protections for children in the Human Rights Act are long agreed, international and Australian standards.

“Removing the rights of children ultimately does not uphold the rights of victims of crime.”

Mr McDougall also expressed concern on the lack of stakeholder consultation on proposed changes.


“There has been a lack of meaningful engagement with the community particularly victims, young people, legal experts and key stakeholders such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities,” he said.

“The community is ready to be part of finding evidence-based solutions to these complex issues.

“I am deeply concerned about the lack of any plan to immediately cease the practice of prolonged watch house detention.

“The proposals will inevitably lead to greater pressure on detention centres and threaten to normalise the inhumane treatment of children by exposing them to an unacceptable risk of psychological and physical harm.

“In Queensland, we have become desensitised to the practice of holding children in small police cells for days and weeks at a time. We have heard troubling accounts of up to 11 children held for long periods in a single cell with only one toilet.

“This would be unacceptable in any jurisdiction, but for it to occur in Australia’s newest human rights jurisdiction is particularly distressing.”


The Commissioner did acknowledge growing community concerns to a spate of high-profile crimes with children as the alleged perpetrators and the rights of victims and all members of the community.

“The rights of victims are important and everyone in Queensland has the right to feel safe in their community,” he said. “However there is no evidence that the amendments will work to improve community safety in the immediate or longer term.”

Read the Human Rights Commissioner’s statement.

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