Criminal Law Overhaul Continues

The Queensland Government has continued its overhaul of Queensland criminal law, adding to an already substantive lists of changes.

The changes, announced by the Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie last Thursday are wide ranging and include for the most part an increase in penalties to offenders, but also some attempts to modernise the criminal court process. Overall 74 amendments are contained in the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2014, which consists of a total of 58 pages.

The amendments can be broadly put into 5 categories, and a summary is listed below. However this is not an exhaustive list of all amendments made by the Bill.

Changes to Sex Offender Laws and Offences of a Sexual Nature

The amendments include:

  1. Mandatory imprisonment of one year for the removal of a GPS monitoring bracelet by a sex offender. A maximum penalty of 5 years exists for the offence;
  2. An increase to the maximum penalty for the procurement of a child or a person with a mental impairment for prostitution to a maximum of 20 years. Previously the maximum for this offence was 14 years; and
  3. Where a person is caught attempting to groom a child, they may be listed as a Dangerous Offender by the court even where the child in question did not exist (for example, the child may have been a police officer pretending to be a child).

Changes to Animal Cruelty

The amendments include:

  1. The creation of a new offence, serious animal cruelty will carry a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment. The offence will apply where a person who, with the intention of inflicting severe pain or suffering, unlawfully kills, causes serious injury to, or prolongs the suffering of, an animal.

Match Fixing

The amendments include:

  1. The creation of the new offences
    1. Engaging in match-fixing conduct;
    2. Facilitating match-fixing conduct or match fixing arrangement;
    3. Offering or giving benefit, or causing or threatening detriment, to engage in match-fixing conduct or match-fixing arrangement;
    4. Using or disclosing knowledge of match-fixing conduct or match fixing arrangement for betting;
    5. Encouraging persons not to disclose match-fixing conduct or match-fixing arrangement;
    6. Using or disclosing inside knowledge for betting.
  2. Each offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. It is not material to a matter the success of a person in affecting the outcome of an event.

Technological and Procedural Reform

Amendments include:

  1. The ability for a defendant to enter a plea of guilty for a minor offence via an online service;
  2. The establishment of a presumption that an expert witness be able to give evidence via a video link. This presumption may be overridden by the court;
  3. Appeal power of the Attorney-General to include simple offences disposed of summarily.

Youth Justice Act and Boot Camps

Amendments include:

  1. Courts when sentencing a child will be able to be informed as to whether the child is subject to the child protection system;
  2. Boot camps will be able to be staffed by detention centre employees. Detention centre employees may provide services to maintain good order and discipline at the centre.

Changes to Youth Justice Act Slammed

The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service in Queensland (ATSILS), have written a joint letter to the United Nations, urging them to intervene in the changes to the Youth Justice Act put forward to parliament on Tuesday.

The changes, detailed here, have been slammed by multiple human rights agencies, Amnesty International recently stated that the proposed laws will do nothing to rehabilitate offenders, they will simple fast-track them into prison cells.

The Queensland Law Society (QLS) has raised multiple concerns with the laws, fearing they will alienate and stigmatise young offenders, forcing them to wear a label and commit further offences. Damian Bartholomew, deputy chair of the QLS’s children’s law committee has stated that the laws will not reduce youth crime in Queensland, and that the proposed legislation was particularly concerning.

The HRLC’s Director of International Advocacy, Ben Schokman, stated last week that the new laws are likely to violate a number of Australia’s human rights obligations.

Mr. Schokman further stated that, “Children don’t belong in prison. Locking children up should only be done in the most exceptional circumstances and as a measure of absolute last resort. These reforms turn that principle on its head and will result in prison being the norm, rather than the exception.”

Both the Children’s Court Bill and Youth Justice and Other Legislation Bill were introduced to parliament last week, and have been referred to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee.

Proposed Changes to the Youth Justice Act

In a recent media statement by the acting Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, The Honourable David Crisafulli, the Queensland Government has proposed new reforms for the Youth Justice Act.

In the media statement, Mr Crisafulli suggests that the government plans to reduce juvenile crime rates across Queensland by making it clear to juvenile offenders that ‘crime without consequences won’t be tolerated in our suburbs”.

The reforms will be voted on when parliament sits on the 11th of February. Significant changes to the Youth Justice Act include:

  • The removal of detention as a last resort when dealing with juvenile offenders.
  • The creation of a new offence, breach of bail. A juvenile will be charged with this offence if they commit a crime whilst on bail.
  • The release of a recidivist juvenile offender’s name to the public (the naming and shaming of an offender).
  • All juvenile criminal histories of a defendant will become available to a magistrate or judge when sentencing in adult courts.
  • Juvenile offenders will be transferred to adult correctional centres when they reach 17 years of age if they have six months or more of their sentence remaining.

You can read the media statement here.