Young Offenders (Serious Crimes) Bill

  • defeated on 21 May 2008

Explanatory note

The purpose of this Bill is to address the serious crimes being committed by young offenders. Young offenders, in some cases only children, have been responsible for a recent spate of very serious and shocking crimes. Some are also going on to become repeat offenders. There is a clear perception that the youth justice system is too lenient towards such offenders, and that the system is not working. Beyond a certain point, which it is considered has now been reached in their case, society must take stronger measures to protect itself against particular offenders, regardless of other circumstances that may have contributed or are contributing to the offending. Justice now requires a different balance to be struck with respect to serious offending by young persons. It is proposed that young offenders who commit serious crimes should be accountable for their crimes more or less in the same way as adult offenders. The principle behind this Bill is adult punishment for adult crimes.

The Bill takes several specific measures to deal with serious crimes committed by young people. First, it changes the legal position with respect to the age of criminal responsibility where serious offences are committed by children. Second, it broadens the circumstances in which young offenders can be sentenced to imprisonment, to include cases where the offenders have been convicted of serious offences. Third, for the purpose of the jurisdiction of the Youth Court, other serious offences are put in the same category as murder and manslaughter when committed by children of or over 12 years of age. A serious offence is defined as any offence for which the maximum penalty is imprisonment for a term of not less than 3 months or a fine of not less than $2,000, and other offences where committed by an offender who has previously committed an offence of that kind or who has more than 3 previous criminal convictions.

Clause 4 provides that the Act will apply with respect to offences committed after the date on which the Act comes into force.

Part 1 amends section 272 of the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 with respect to the jurisdiction of the Youth Court. The effect of that section is to prevent criminal proceedings being brought against children under the age of 14 years, with the exception of charges of murder and manslaughter. The amendment will put other serious offences committed by children of or over the age of 12 years in the same category as murder and manslaughter. Consequential amendments are made to several other provisions of that Act.

Part 2 amends section 22 of the Crimes Act 1961. That provision presently provides that no child when of the age of 10 but under the age of 14 years who commits an offence can be convicted of the offence unless the child knew either that the act or omission was wrong or that it was contrary to law. The amendment will create an exception to that limitation on criminal responsibility, where the offence committed by the child is a serious offence. Children under the age of 10 will continue to be immune from criminal conviction under section 21 of the Crimes Act.

Part 3 amends section 18 of the Sentencing Act 2002, which imposes certain limits on the imposition of a sentence of imprisonment on offenders who are under the age of 17 years at the time of commission of the offence. The amendment provides that a sentence of imprisonment may nevertheless be imposed where the offender is convicted of a serious offence. In line with the position that prevailed under the corresponding provision in the Criminal Justice Act 1985, the amendment also relates the limitation to offenders who are under the age of 16 years at the time of conviction for the offence.