Public Criticism of a Magistrate by Another Arm of Government Inappropriate and Undermines the Public’s Confidence in the Administration of Justice
On Tuesday 12 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 West Australian newspaper and ABC News have reported that the WA government has expressed frustration after a magistrate acquitted a 10-year-old boy, who tried to ram a police car in a stolen vehicle, because the child did not grasp the severity of his offending.
The Police Minister, Paul Papalia 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.
It appears from the story’s that the prosecution failed to prove capacity beyond reasonable doubt as per section 29 of the Criminal Code, which reads:
- A person under the age of 10 years is not criminally responsible for any act or omission.
- A person under the age of 14 years is not criminally responsible for an act or omission, unless it is proved that at the time of doing the act or making the omission he had capacity to know that he ought not to do the act or make the omission.
The reporting fails to acknowledge:
- the defence provided by s29 of the Criminal Code recognizes the fact that children between 10 and 14 years old may not have the maturity to understand the nature and consequences of their actions;
- it is the responsibility of the prosecution, in this case, the police, to prove the child has capacity;
- that in this case the electronic record of interview was ruled inadmissible because the police had not complied with the law regarding the way in which the interview should have been conducted;
- these legal protections are based in common law, and statue law, for the protection of people, including children, involved in the criminal justice system;
- in this case the child was in the care of the State;
- it would appear that the State as parent has questions to answer; and
- the police investigation and prosecution was problematic as well.
The Law Society President, Ante Golem said that “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”.
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