Youth Justice and Child Wellbeing Reform
The Law Council of Australia provided a submission to the National Children’s Commissioner (the Commissioner) in response to her investigation into the opportunities for reform of youth justice and related systems across Australia.
The Law Council frames its submission against two overarching points:
- communities will, generally, be safer and healthier if greater consideration and effort is given to diverting young people1 from the justice system; and
- responses to young people in the criminal justice system should reflect Australia’s international obligations, particularly regarding the rights of the child2 and ensuring the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all actions concerning children.3
In this submission, the Law Council makes the following recommendations consistent with those two overarching points:
- the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be increased to 14 years in all jurisdictions, without exception;
- early intervention and rehabilitation solutions should be prioritised by governments to address underlying issues to help prevent young people from becoming involved in criminal activities;
- inter-agency collaboration, training and information sharing within the youth justice system should be encouraged;
- the treatment of young offenders in custody must meet Australia’s international obligations in relation to the rights of children and young persons;
- consideration should be given to diverse sentencing and diversion options, buttressed by integrated social support services, to promote rehabilitation and divert young people from re-offending; and
- investment in measures to improve access to ‘exit strategies’ should be increased —including wraparound supports, transition services, throughcare and appropriate, safe and affordable accommodation—to prevent youth homelessness and avoid future contact with the criminal justice system.
1 Note, for the purpose of this submission, the term ‘young person’ is used to refer to all young persons under the age of 18 years. This reflects the definition of ‘children and young people’ under the Commonwealth Commissioner for Children and Young People Act 2010 (Cth). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child also refers to a child as ‘every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier’, see: Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for signature 20 November 1989, GA res 44/25, UNTS 1577 3 (entered into force 2 September 1990) (CROC) art
2 CROC; see also, United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No 24 on young people’s rights in the child justice system, UN Doc CRC/C/GC/24 (18 September 2019).
3 See, CROC, article 3.