Amnesty International says youth justice reforms stand in ?direct conflict? to major human rights standards.
Amnesty International has called on the Queensland government to scrap its youth justice reforms arguing they stand in “direct conflict” to major human rights standards.
Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie spent much of last year talking about getting tough on youth crime and consulting with communities on the issue.
He emerged in September with a reform plan which would see teenagers with more than six months remaining on their sentence moved to adult prisons when they turned 17, remove detention as a last resort, and allow the identities of repeat offenders to be published.
Those reforms are due to be pushed through parliament in the coming months.
But the Australian director of Amnesty International, Claire Mallinson, has written to Premier Campbell Newman asking him to “remove these bills from the debating schedule ... and ensure that the changes proposed are afforded proper public scrutiny”.
“These amendments go against international best practice for the protection of children, directly oppose the best interest of the child, contravene major human rights standards and as such should not be introduced,” Ms Mallinson writes.
“The proposals outlined undermine the fundamental proposition that the best interest of the child are paramount and should be the primary consideration in all actions concerning children – including those undertaken by courts of law, administrative or legislative bodies.”
Ms Mallinson said the human rights watchdog was “particularly concerned” about the push to remove the “internationally established principle” of detention as a last resort as it contravened the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which “stipulate arrest, detention and imprisonment” should only be used once other options were exhausted.
Naming and shaming repeat offenders and making breach of bail an offence were also identified as reasons for concern, Ms Mallinson said, as the rules around protecting children from stigmatisation and the right to presumption of innocence, would be undermined.
“Juvenile justice is a critical area of social policy which has life-long impacts on all those affected,” Ms Mallinson wrote to the Premier.
“It is crucial that such an important policy area undergo proper consideration, consultation and scrutiny.
The majority of children in youth detention in Queensland – just over 60 per cent – are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Those opposed to the state’s Youth Justice Act have warned they will further victimise vulnerable youth.
Australian Bureau of Statistic figures and the latest Children's Court of Queensland annual report both found the number of juvenile offenders fronting the state’s courts had continued to drop, but those who did face the justice system, estimated to represent just 0.01 per cent of the youth population – were likely to be repeat offenders.
Mr Newman, who said he was yet to receive Ms Mallinson’s letter, said the government was “talking to people”.
“The Attorney-General last year invited Queenslanders across the state to have their say on youth justice,” he said.
“This particularly is a problem in some of the regional cities like Townsville and Cairns and Rockhampton.
“And again we’re determined to get this right.
“I totally respect Amnesty International. I haven’t seen their letter. I look forward to seeing it.”
Mr Newman said there were parallels with some of the issues the government was facing while it considered reforms to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence and anti-social behaviour in the state’s entertainment districts.
“If I may again, to show the complexity in terms of this other issue[alcohol-fuelled violence] I mean, I noticed in the media in the last 24 hours there’s been a lot of talk in pointing out that mandatory sentences for some of these violent acts could see high levels of incarceration for Aboriginal young people.
“So the government is determined to get all of these things right and we won’t be jumping into kneejerk sort of responses.
“But one thing I say is the people of Townsville, particularly, and the people of Cairns, are demanding a proper response to end the misery of constant house breaking, car stealing, petty theft that is going on in the city. I mean it is really driving people around the twist up there.
“And I assure them the government knows that and we’ve got to find a way through this to actually take away that criminal element but properly try and give a pathway to a real life for these young offenders, many of them indigenous. “
Mr Bleijie has previously labelled the reforms as “tough but necessary”.
The reforms are expected to be introduced to parliament on February 11.