Continued Public Criticism of Youth Justice Matters Undermines Judicial Independence

Continued Public Criticism of Youth Justice Matters Undermines Judicial Independence

Continued Public Criticism of Youth Justice Matters Undermines Judicial Independence

In December 2023, Magistrate Michelle Ridley found that a 10-year-old boy had led police in Kununurra on a dangerous chase through residential streets, and at one point drove straight at the pursuit vehicle forcing officers to drive off the road, narrowly avoiding a potentially serious crash. Her Honour Magistrate Ridley ruled the boy did not know what he did was seriously or morally wrong and therefore did not meet a mental capacity requirement under WA law for children aged 10 to 14.

The Minister for Police and Corrective Services (Minister), Paul Papalia at that time expressed concern about Her Honour Magistrate Ridley’s decision to acquit the boy of a criminal offence on the basis of a failure to prove the boy had capacity to understand the serious consequences of his actions.

“I’m frustrated by the way it played out. If anyone regardless of their age commits serious crimes there
needs to be a consequence. That’s very disappointing,” he said.

The Immediate Past President of the Law Society, Ante Golem said in December 2023 “yet again the public is being exposed to criticism of a member of the judiciary by another arm of government which is likely to undermine the public’s confidence in the administration of justice. The reporting suggests that the magistrate has in this matter, correctly applied the law, that is that the State must prove beyond reasonable doubt, that a child between 10 and 14 years, knew that their actions were seriously wrong, before criminal responsibility can be established. It is the responsibility of the prosecution, in this case, the police, to prove the child has capacity”.

In the Saturday 10 February 2024 edition of the Western Australian newspaper, it was reported that the Minister had once again taken upon himself to publicly criticise the judiciary by suggesting that young offenders should be given longer terms behind bars in detention to give them a “better chance of rehabilitation”.

“This continued commentary from the Minister on decisions of the Court on youth justice matters risks compromising our judicial independence. The report in the Western Australian newspaper failed to acknowledge that in Western Australia there are very few appeals against Children’s Court sentences, suggesting courts routinely get it right. It is not the Ministers role to criticise or undermine the public confidence in our justice institutions” said Law Society President Paula Wilkinson.

The Children’s court has found repeatedly and as recently as this week that the government continues to detain children in solitary confinement, causing them harm and that the conditions of detention in Unit 18 are of no rehabilitative effect and are leaving the community less safe.

The government have had more than two years to fix this but still there is no end date for unit 18 and despite the tragic death of Cleveland Dodd, little has changed at Unit 18. Detainees at unit 18 continue to self-harm, reacting to the 22/23 hour per day lockdown conditions they are confined in.

Ms Wilkinson said “The Law Society has repeatedly called for government to deal with the juvenile detention crisis in Western Australia. This situation is entirely the government’s responsibility (and failure) and the Supreme and Children’s courts have found repeatedly over the last 2 years that the department of corrective services has acted unlawfully in the way it manages children in detention, causing them short and long term harm”.

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