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QLS: ‘Stronger’ youth crime laws bound to fail

Queensland Law Society has called on the State Government and Opposition to consult experts in youth justice in order to implement measures that will work to address youth crime.

QLS has joined a chorus of youth justice stakeholders and legal advocates demanding the shelving of tough child law changes in a so-called bid to reduce youth crime.

Queensland Law Society President Chloé Kopilović said on Saturday that the Government’s “stronger laws for community safety” campaign would only serve to fail Queenslanders and create more community harm.

“Locking up children will not stop crime,” she said. “It has been proven that after a child’s first interaction with the youth justice system they are more likely to re-offend. Further to this, the longer a child spends in custody, the more likely they are to be pipelined into the adult criminal justice system. And this is no place for them to be.

“Every Queenslander deserves the right to feel safe in their homes and within their communities, but the Society fears the Government’s ‘stronger laws for community safety’ campaign, will only serve to fail Queenslanders and create more community harm.”

Youth justice continues to be one of the most publicly debated topics as the Government attempts to respond to a series of recent high-profile youth crimes.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a number of law changes on 29 December in response to reported community outrage over the stabbing death of a Brisbane mother and a so-called spike in youth crime.

Ms Kopilović said the Society believed an urgent injection of funds was needed to address the root causes of child offending, such as family violence, substance abuse, physical and mental health and education issues that many disadvantaged children deal with.

“The answer is not to build more detention centres, but rather invest in building communities to support our children, particularly those from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,” Ms Kopilović said.

“The Government’s proposed legislative responses, such as increasing the maximum penalty for car theft, have not worked in the past and there is no reason to think it will again. Queensland Law Society asks the Government to consider justice re-investment.

“We empathise with communities that have been impacted by increasing rate of youth crime, and we implore the Government to implement solutions that will result in a long-term reduction in crime.

“Justice re-investment works by diverting funds that would ordinarily be spent on keeping individuals in prisons to communities with high rates of offending and incarceration, giving those communities the capacity to invest in programs and services that address the underlying causes of crime.

“This reduces criminal behaviour and the rate of re-offending. Justice re-investment focuses on both existing criminal behaviour and reducing the number of people entering the criminal justice system in the first place.”

In late January, a collective of respected community groups and leaders resorted to buying a full-page weekend newspaper advertisement to communicate their ‘get smarter – not tougher’ solutions to Queensland’s youth crisis.

More than 40 organisations and 20 prominent Queenslanders threw their support behind a paid ‘open letter’ addressed to the Queensland Government urging it to consider “evidence-based solutions to youth crime that actually work”.

On Friday, QLS also voiced concern about comments attributed to Queensland Deputy Premier Stephen Miles after 13 children being held on remand were released from a police watch house by a Townville magistrate.

Mr Miles’ comments described the presiding Childrens Court magistrate’s decision as a “media stunt”, and the magistrate as “someone who clearly does not agree with our laws”. It was suggested that Townsville residents were being “held to ransom by rogue courts and rogue justices”.

Ms Kopilović said that, because of their position, judges were not able to defend themselves and it is ordinarily not appropriate for them to answer criticisms of their decisions in the media.

“While there may be disagreement about judges’ decisions, it is critical to be aware that there are robust checks and balances in place to guard against improper judicial decisions,” Ms Kopilović said.

“Parties to a matter who are unhappy with a judicial decision have appeal rights, and in the case of bail decisions about young offenders, the ability to have these decisions appealed in the Childrens Court of Queensland.

“We urge the Government to uphold the doctrine of separation of powers and to preserve the independence of our judiciary.”

Letter to the editor

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