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Concern about Young Offenders’ Bill

31 March 2006

Children’s Commissioner expresses concerns about Young Offenders’ Bill

The Children’s Commissioner, Dr Cindy Kiro, has spoken out against the proposed Young Offenders (Serious Crimes) Bill which had it’s first reading in Parliament on Wednesday.

“I have looked at the Bill and have serious concerns about its impact if passed into law,” said Dr Kiro.

“The current public perception of the Bill is that its intention is to reduce the age at which young offenders can be prosecuted in the criminal courts from 14 to 12. However in its current form, the Bill reduces that age to 10 for virtually all criminal offences.

The legislation would mean that if for any offence where the maximum penalty is imprisonment for a term of not less than 3 months or a fine of not less than $2,000 i.e. for almost all offences, the charge would have to be laid in the adult court. This removes from the Youth Court jurisdiction over virtually all criminal offences with which a young person or child can be charged. ”

“The effect of this would be that a young person charged with stealing a litre of ice-cream would be dealt with next to adult criminals in the District Court.

This sort of over-reaction to offending by a young person and their possible placement in a prison-like environment can only lead to an increased likelihood of future offending by these young people and certainly does nothing to rehabilitate or improve outcomes for themselves or society. This is completely unacceptable as well as being in breach of a number of international conventions including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

“There must be public debate and clarification of the intention of the Bill and its impact. I will be seeking an independent legal opinion on the purpose and intent of the Bill. We owe it to your children to protect them and guide them to become responsible adults. This is not the way to deal with youth offending.

All of the youth justice literature tells us that we basically have a good system with the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act, we need to tighten up some parts of it, but punishing children of 10 years for minor offences or adopting such a vengeful approach will not help, “Dr Kiro said.

ENDS

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