Youth justice package a missed opportunity

Law Society of NSW

A twelve month ‘experiment’ to tighten bail laws for children and young people prioritises a drive for political action instead of evidence-based, well-considered reform.

President of the Law Society of NSW Brett McGrath welcomed the funding initiatives in the youth justice package announced today by the NSW Government, but warned a failure to consult with experts on bail and crime amendments risks flawed legislation.

“The Law Society acknowledges the importance of community safety and recognises the Government’s desire to address community concerns about youth crime in certain parts of NSW,” Mr McGrath said.

“We are, however, disappointed that legislation to introduce a ‘temporary’ tightened bail test for certain offences will be introduced in the absence of any meaningful input from experts with daily experience of these issues on our Criminal Law, Children’s Legal Issues, and Indigenous Issues Committees.”

Children are vulnerable in their interactions with the criminal justice system. The Law Society has consistently advocated for measures that support children, including through diversion programs that deal with the underlying causes of offending.

“Tightening the test for bail will result in more children being sent into custody. In circumstances where youth justice centres are often many hours from child defendants’ families and communities, this change has the potential to do a great deal more harm than good,” Mr McGrath said.

“The Government intends to collect evidence over the next 12 months on the operation of the new bail provision before deciding whether it should continue. Governments should ordinarily seek an appropriate evidence base before legislating significant reform. The Law Society will consider in detail the legislation once it’s available and provide our feedback directly to the Government.”

Mr McGrath said elements of the package that strengthen diversionary approaches to youth offending represent positive steps towards addressing youth offending across the state.

“We encourage the Government to examine opportunities in communities across all regional NSW to mirror the initiatives foreshadowed today’s announcement. Six months of additional judicial and DPP resources for Moree are welcome, but should be made permanent,” Mr McGrath said.

/Public Release.