17-year-olds in the criminal justice system: Update

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Youth Justice and other legislation (Inclusion of 17-year-old Persons) Amendment Act 2016 (Qld) (‘Amendment Act’) come into force commencing on 12 February 2018.  The main purpose of the Amendment Act was to change the way in which 17-year-olds were dealt with in the criminal justice system.

Previously, the Youth Justice Act 1992 (Qld) provided that children aged 16 and under were to be dealt with in the children’s court.

The Amendment Act, however, has varied this position by removing reference to a child being a person under the age of 17 years.  This has meant that a person under the age of 18 years of age is now dealt with as a child in the children’s court and their dealing with police, and given the benefit of the youth justice legislation’s rehabilitation principles.

The benefit of being dealt with as a child means that there is a focus on rehabilitation, having children engaged with family and engaged with education.  There is also the ability for police to use a number of diversionary methods when dealing with children, to keep them away from the court system altogether.

These changes have brought Queensland into line with every other state in Australia, which considers persons under the age of 18 to be children, and dealt with by the police and courts accordingly.

Whilst the amendment is a welcome change to the legal position in Queensland, there has been some unfortunate ramifications as a result of the legislation.

Particularly:

  1. Persons who were 17-years-of-age when charged by police but have turned 18 prior to 12 February 2018 (the commencement date) will still be dealt with in the adult jurisdiction and the relevant penalties for an adult will apply to these persons, despite being a child when they committed the offence, and
  2. 17-year-olds serving a sentence in custody who turned 18 before 12 March 2018, or were expected to be released before 12 March 2018 were to remain in adult jail until being released.

Unfortunately, it was also announced on behalf of the government on 12 February 2018 that due to the increase in number of youths detained across the detention centres being higher than previously expected, and the number of 17-year-olds being held in adult custody, that the government did not currently have capacity to transfer all eligible 17-year-olds who are being held in adult jail to youth detention centres.

This has meant that those 17-year-olds have remained in custody in an adult jail, as opposed to a youth detention centre for children, despite the law classing them as children under the act.  This has led to an unjust situation where a large number of 17-year-olds are still currently being held in adult jails, despite being before the children’s court.

These children have therefore not been able to obtain the support, rehabilitation and learning opportunities available in youth detention centres that 17-year-olds charged after the commencement date will be receiving.

If you or someone you know:

  • is a 17-year-old charged with an offence,
  • was 17 at the time of committing offences for which they have now been charged, or
  • is a 17-year-old being held in adult custody,

we recommend you get in touch as soon as possible on 1800 999 LAW (1800 999 529) to seek legal advice about their position.

How we can help

It is always best you obtain legal advice from an experienced criminal lawyer, who can provide you with the best advice tailored specifically to your individual situation and circumstances. 

Why choose us?

You will be talking to a real expert, local to you.  You will not be treated like a number, but as a real person, and a person who may be going through a difficult and stressful experience.  Get expert advice, not just what you want to hear, in a language you can understand not legal jargon.

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