Surprise new laws direct courts to keep children out of jail while on remand

Youth Minister Di Farmer. Courtesy: Liam Kidston.

FEWER children will be locked up under surprise new laws explicitly directing courts and police to release children as the Palaszczuk Government struggles to deal with its youth detention crisis clogging police watch houses.

Youth Minister Di Farmer introduced new legislation in Parliament this morning that strengthens children’s rights not to be locked up on remand, and directing police to think twice before arresting minors that breach bail.

Changes include requiring youths who are arrested and detained to be brought before Children’s Court “as soon as practicable and within 24 hours” or “on the next available day” to stop delays in justice that are seeing young people languishing in temporary adult cells while they await court.

The Government has been under increasing pressure over its use of police watch houses to house minors because youth detention centres are full, with the Public Guardian detailing the shocking conditions inside for scores of 10 to 17-year-olds.

The legislation specifically clarifies that detention is a “last resort” when considering bail, “incorporating an explicit presumption in favour of release” that can only be rebutted if there is an unacceptable risk the child will commit an offence, endanger a person’s safety or welfare, interfere with a witness or obstruct the course of justice.

A child cannot be denied bail simply because they are homeless or do not have family support.

Courts and police may not institute bail conditions on the basis of a child’s age, maturity, cognitive ability, health, disability, their need for support, or their home environment.

Conditions imposed must be explained on paper in regards to how they mitigate a risk for the child.

Police must also make all reasonable efforts to quickly contact a parent when a child has been arrested and to immediately contact legal aid before a child is questioned so that legal representation can be arranged early.

The law also clarify that electronic tracking device cannot be used on a child, in a direct rebuttal of a recommendation made by former police commissioner Bob Atkinson in his youth justice review.

Ms Farmer said the legislation struck the right balance between minimising the time a child spent in detention and protecting the community.

“It will help remove barriers that may contribute to children being refused bail, breaching bail conditions or remaining in detention on remand for an extended period, including in watch houses,” she said.

“Importantly, the Bill retains judicial and police discretion to ensure community safety when making decisions about bail.

“But wherever it is possible and safe to do so, we want young people out of detention, especially when they have not yet been convicted of an offence.”

Ms Farmer said many young people on remand were there because they didn’t have a safe home.

“We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different outcomes for our young people,” she said.

“We know that by placing young offenders in detention, they are more likely to re-offend and that young people coming into contact with youth justice face a range of complex issues.”