A BALLARAT magistrate has called for 17-year-olds to be considered adults by law, saying that Children’s Court sentencing principles were overly restrictive and left magistrates unable to sentence as they wanted to.
Regional co-ordinating magistrate Peter Couzens made the comments in a recent court hearing in which he reluctantly sentenced a youth to a probation order.
He said the community would be understandably confused by sentences given to youths who had committed “the most horrific of (crimes)”.
“I make no secret that those responsible for taking 17-year-olds out of the adult court acted naively,” he said.
“The whole issue of 17-year-olds in the Children’s Court is naive and should be readdressed.
“The (Children and Young Persons) Act should be reviewed.”
Mr Couzens said the Children’s Court offered “no punishment” and was focused solely on rehabilitation.
“I can understand why the community is frustrated and bemused by sentences imposed by Children’s Courts,” he said.
“We (magistrates) are prisoners of the legislation and can’t do what we as individuals would like to do.”
He said Children’s Court sentencing provisions also ignored issues of denunciation and general and specific deterrence.
“There comes a time when punishment could be of benefit,” he said.
“So many of them (young offenders) haven’t been punished within the four walls of their homes.
“Some see me in the street and acknowledge me, that’s how familiar they are with me.”
In a recent speech, president of the Children’s Court of Victoria Judge Paul Grant outlined why sentencing principles were different for children and adults.
He said the Victorian approach, which emphasised “graduated and proportional responses” and the use of detention as a sentence of last resort, was consistent with the principles enunciated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other associated human rights covenants.
“The importance of the principle of rehabilitation often results in Children’s Courts making orders that would be, in the words of a former Supreme Court Judge, ‘entirely inappropriate in the case of older and presumably more mature individuals’,” Judge Grant said.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2009-10 Victoria had the second lowest youth offender rate in Australia behind the ACT.
A Coalition spokesperson said the government had already commenced the introduction of a range of sentencing reforms.
These included baseline sentences, statutory minimum sentences for gross violence offences and the abolition of suspended sentences.
“However, the proposal to change the law to classify 17-year-olds as adults is not under consideration,” the spokesperson said.
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