YAK on YAC

December 2019

As we find ourselves nearly at the end of 2018, I realise that it is a while since we sent out a YAK on YAC and there are few updates!

YAC started the year with a reasonable level of uncertainty but by the end of the year we have secured our funding for the next 2-5 years, enabling us to continue to provide the services and supports that young people who come to us need.

This has also meant that we are now in a better position to plan for the medium to longer term for YAC’s ongoing sustainability. This has also been helped significantly by the support of many of you receiving this newsletter but we should mention the amazing effort of the Chain Reaction women cyclists and the generosity of the Presentation Sisters. EY is assisting YAC in relation to the development of its outcomes measurement and evaluation capacity and 6YS continues to provide us with essential IT support. All the support we receive is a great boost to the morale of staff in their day to day work and is much appreciated.

If you haven’t already seen it – our annual report for 2017-18 is now on our website with information about our work over that financial year:         INSERT LINK

At the beginning of the year, Minister Farmer noted that the transfer of 17 year olds from the adult justice system was just the start of reform of the youth justice system and YAC has been involved at a number of levels in contributing to the discussion on what that reform should look like. This week the government released “Working together Changing the story” Youth Justice Strategy 2019-23: https://www.csyw.qld.gov.au/resources/dcsyw/youth-justice/youth-justice-report-strategy/strategy.pdf

YAC welcomes what is a well-balanced document which recognises the need to address youth offending but puts it in context and uses the research and evidence to support the approach of addressing it in a purposeful and effective manner. YAC’s Director has been asked to continue to be on the Stakeholder Advisory Group for youth justice in 2019 in relation to the implementation of the strategy.

There are, however, some immediate issues for resolution. The situation of children on remand (now over 80% of those detained) is an urgent one and the use of watch houses is not something which can continue. Watch houses are not suitable places to hold children for any length of time. YAC will continue to work with the government to address this as soon as possible. This is not a matter for Youth Justice Services alone though – for example, we need to look at police practice as the “gateway” to the justice system, access to accommodation for young people who do not have a safe and secure place to live, and lawyers ensuring that they are dealing with their clients’ matters as expeditiously as ensuring justice will allow.

An issue which is not canvassed in the youth justice strategy, although raised by Bob Atkinson in his report to the Minister, is consideration of raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR). The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has indicated that it considers that 12 should be the minimum age. Fourteen is the most common age around the world.

However, it has been reported that the Federal Attorney-General has signed off on a 12-month investigation into MACR and is in talks with Attorneys-General around the country. YAC will be watching the developments here with interest and supporting any proposal to raise the age. Children under 14 are theoretically protected from the full force of the law through the legal doctrine of “doli incapax”, which means that the prosecution has to prove that the child committed an offence and that the child understood their culpability. The test for culpability is problematic in Queensland with the threshold of proof being very low – in other Australian States and Territories the test is different and provides greater protection for younger children.

So we end the year on a high note: a promising youth justice strategy; the last of the 17 year olds leaving adult prison (meaning the transfer of 17 year olds into the youth justice system is now complete); a serious discussion commencing on the inclusion of younger children in the criminal justice system; and YAC as an organisation on a viable footing.

On a more personal note, we received the news at the end of November that Queensland’s Governor, His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey, has appointed our long-time chair, Damien Atkinson, as a Queen’s Counsel. This is a significant milestone in the career of a barrister and is not granted lightly. Our congratulations to Damien on this achievement and thanks for his ongoing support of YAC!

YAC is looking forward to a great year in 2019: we hope that you and yours have a safe and happy festive season and 2019 is kind to you too!