Fairness for children suspected of people smuggling offences: Submission to Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

In a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee, the HRLC has recommended the enactment of the Crimes Amendment (Fairness for Minors) Bill 2011 (Cth). The Bill, introduced by Greens’ Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, responds to concerns about Australia’s treatment of children and persons claiming to be children who are suspected of people smuggling crimes.

The Bill was introduced after revelations that a number of Indonesian children arriving in Australia onboard people smuggling boats were being detained and imprisoned. Some of those children were detained for significant amounts of time in Australia, including in adult correctional facilities. A number of those children were detained on the basis of now discredited wrist x-ray analysis techniques.

If passed, the Bill would make a number of important changes including:

  • enshrining the ‘benefit of the doubt’ principle in domestic law to ensure that persons who claim to be children are treated as such, unless a court decides otherwise;
  • encouraging best-practice when it comes to assessing and proving a suspect’s age;
  • enacting time limits to reduce waiting periods for the laying of criminal charges and applying for age determination hearings before a Magistrate; and
  • ensuring that no child charged with people-smuggling offences is detained in an adult correctional facility.

The HRLC considers that that enactment of the Bill is necessary to give effect to Australia’s obligations under international human rights law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.