The Human Rights Law Centre will today provide a submission to a Northern Territory Parliamentary Committee supporting landmark reforms to youth justice laws, arguing however that the Government should follow through with its promise to raise the age of criminal responsibility. The submission reinforces calls to do away with punitive aspects of the youth justice system geared to locking up and harming children.
Shahleena Musk, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre said, “Children should be in classrooms not court rooms. The Government cannot let politics get in the way of fulfilling its promise to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Children in the Northern Territory must be given the best chance to succeed in life, supported by their families and in their communities.’
The youth justice amendments before the Parliamentary Committee are based on recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Detention and Protection of Children in the Northern Territory. The majority of the legal reforms are supported by the Human Rights Law Centre and will see:
increased access to diversion and programs to prevent offending and help get children back on track;
youth specific bail reforms and programs to address risk;
changes to policing practices to ensure age appropriate treatment for children;
closed court and prohibition on publication to prevent the naming and shaming of children.
However the NT Government has failed to follow through on amendments that would have seen the age of criminal responsibility raised from 10 years. Currently, children as young as 10 are able to be arrested by police, charged with an offence and locked up in a youth prison.
“Raising the age of criminal responsibility was a cornerstone recommendation of the Royal Commission, seen as crucial to preventing the criminalisation of vulnerable children. This simple reform would have profound and long-lasting positive impacts on the wellbeing of children in the Northern Territory, particularly Aboriginal children, said Ms Musk.
"The Gunner Government has backed away from amendments that would prevent vulnerable children being funneled through the quicksand of the criminal justice system. Laws that see children as young as 10 imprisoned ignore the evidence that says children should not be behind bars.” said Ms Musk.
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519