(Pictured Dan Rogers, Jordan English, Chief Justice Catherine Holmes
and Professor Peter Høj).
Robertson O’Gorman is a proud sponsor of the University of Queensland Law School. Each year the law school recognises the brightest legal minds through awards to its top performing students.
This week at Customs House, Dan Rogers presented The Robertson O’Gorman Prize in Criminal Law at the UQ Law Awards Ceremony. Robertson O’Gorman sponsors two prizes for students that receive the highest marks in Criminal Law.
The event included a key note address by Chief Justice Catherine Holmes of the Supreme Court of Queensland. Jordan English and Elizaveta Belongogoff won the Robertson O’Gorman prizes.
This year, the law awards were extra special for Robertson O’Gorman as Keilin Anderson, law clerk in our office, received a Pro Bono Centre Award. This is a great achievement as pro bono legal work is an important responsibility for all in our profession.
A full UQ media release can be found here:
Queensland’s age of criminal responsibility is 17; a whole year younger than the other states in Australia. This difference and the consequences it has on Queensland’s youth is deeply concerning.
Children under the age of 10 cannot be charged with a criminal offence. Between 10 and 14, there is a presumption that the child is not criminally responsible – but this can be rebutted if the prosecution can prove the child knew that what they were doing was wrong. Once a child turns 15, they are presumed to be criminally responsible for their actions as a juvenile offender.
These rules are the same across all Australian jurisdictions. However, in Queensland, unlike any other State or Territory, a 17 year old is not considered a juvenile offender but rather, an adult offender. This is a significant discrepancy that ought to be addressed by our State Government.
Young people are still undergoing important brain development, and both behavioural psychology and neuroscience attest that adolescents are less able to control their impulses, plan ahead, and weigh the consequences of their decisions before acting. This, and their susceptibility to peer influence, means that young people are attracted to novel and risky activities and may become involved in criminal behaviour. When this occurs, the solution is rarely a jail term.
Jails are not a good place for rehabilitating adults. For children, they are even worse. Studies have shown that prisons are like ‘crime universities’ for young people. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare have released statistics that state that 71% of young people in detention between 2010-11 had returned to sentenced supervision within one year, and 91% had returned within two years. Youth justice should focus on rehabilitation to ensure that young offenders don’t become adult offenders.
It is not all doom and gloom! The impressionability of young people also means that they are receptive to positive interventions and can be guided to a better path. Diverting young people from formal court processes and from prison environments is most important. Rehabilitation must assume primary importance when dealing with young people.
We live in a modern world where a great volume of scientific evidence points to the conclusion that 17 year olds (and even those older than this) should not be considered criminally responsible to the same extent as adult offenders. Furthermore, we have the resources and professionals required to implement effective rehabilitation programs. These options should be made available to 17 year olds.
The Newman Government removed a provision in the Youth Justice Act which made imprisonment a last resort for young offenders. Fortunately, the Palaszczuk Government has announced that they will act on their election promise to repeal these laws. However, the current Queensland Labor Government has an opportunity to make further changes to the law which could bring Queensland in-line with the other jurisdictions in Australia.
Children occupy a very vulnerable space in our society. They are often voiceless, and even invisible, when arguments are fought over them. Protections such as increasing the age of criminal responsibility are key steps in securing justice for these people.
Robertson O’Gorman represents young people charged with criminal offences. Call us today on 3034 0000.
I recently worked with Emma Phillips of Queensland Advocacy Incorporated on an article about the importance of a Human Rights Act for Queensland. You can see the full article, published by Right Now, at the below link.
To find out more about a HR Act for Queensland head to http://www.humanrights4qld.com.au/
Queenslanders have until 18 April 2016 to make submissions on the issue.
This week, the Queensland Government introduced a Bill to repeal various youth justice reforms introduced by the former LNP government. This is a most welcomed move and the Government deserves true recognition for delivering on its pre-election commitment to repeal these ill considered laws. The Government’s media release can be found here.
The Government’s Bill will reintroduce the principle of detention as a last resort for children. It will also remove the provisions that allow for the identification of young offenders and for childhood offences to be admitted in adult sentencing proceedings. This change will help our State realign itself with international standards and norms concerning the treatment of children.
Last Tuesday evening, I chaired a seminar at the Queensland College of Law regarding the prevalence of mental health concerns in the legal profession. It was most interesting to hear from the panellists, John Britton (inaugural Legal Services Commissioner) and Rebecca Michalak (Director, Psych Safe). The talk was incredibly eye opening and I am sure that the group of lawyers and law students that attended gained a lot from participating in the session.
It is well documented that a greater percentage of lawyers suffer from mental illnesses and emotional distress when compared with the general population. For example, lawyers are twice as likely to suffer from depression, twice as likely to become alcoholics, and if they are men, twice as likely to commit suicide. Perhaps less known, however, is the unknown effect that this prevalence of emotional distress is having on the ethical decision making of lawyers.
I was pleased to present a guest lecture to an audience of law students at the University of Queensland last Friday. The lecture formed part of the Criminal Law and Procedure course for second and third year students at a point where the students were learning about the concept of a ‘fair trial’. In the hour that I had, I spoke about my experiences as a practising criminal defence lawyer and why I chose to practise in this area of law.
I chose criminal law for many reasons. I like representing the rights and interests of vulnerable individuals in crisis. I also like the idea of levelling the playing field when a client faces a prosecution by the State with all its might and resources. I love court rooms, advocacy and fair outcomes.
Government commits to Parliamentary Inquiry into Human Rights Act; this will help tackle Domestic Violence
On Monday night, a large number of community organisations gathered at Parliament House to show their support for a campaign to introduce a Human Rights Act in Queensland. The Government committed to a parliamentary inquiry into a Human Rights Act in Queensland. This is a great step for our State. There is a growing momentum for this reform and the recent spate of domestic violence incidents is just another reason why we must all support human rights for Queenslanders.
The scourge that is domestic violence must stop. A multi-faceted approach is necessary. We must look to all tools within our armoury to help fight this war. A Human Rights Act should be part of the Queensland Government’s response to domestic violence. More funding, more laws and more police powers are expected outcomes from a community in crisis. However, these changes do little to drive cultural change. There is much debate about the benefits of a Human Rights Act. However, at a minimum, it is a loud statement by our elected Government about who we are and what we value.
Catherine Holmes was named Queensland’s Chief Justice last night after two months of deliberations by the Queensland Government. This is a fine appointment and the Government ought to be congratulated on restoring integrity to the process of appointing judicial officers in this State. The announcement comes after the resignation of previous Chief Justice Tim Carmody, whose term lasted less than a year after his controversial appointment. Promisingly, Shadow Attorney-General Ian Walker has offered his Party’s support to the new Chief Justice.
Although yesterday’s appointment followed all the proper conventions and protocols, there remains the need for serious discussion by the Government concerning the establishment of a Judicial Commission. Queensland’s Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath did not promise to introduce a Judicial Commission upon Carmody’s resignation. However, the ‘Carmody Saga’ should not be quickly forgotten as it highlights the need for the establishment of a Judicial Commission. A Queensland Commission would be an independent body that protects fundamental principles of independence and accountability from heavily political appointments.
There are other benefits of a judicial commission. The New South Wales Commission, as an example, investigates and reports on consistency of sentencing, provides ongoing education for judicial officers and examines complaints against judicial officers. More importantly, however, is its role in advising and reporting to the attorney-general on appointments.
Now is the time to introduce a Human Rights Act in Queensland.
This is an opportunity for the Labor government to show Queensland that they wish to protect the rights of individuals in the community. It is a matter of high principle that can be achieved at almost no cost. I understand that the government’s priorities are pre-election commitments but at this point in time, there is a unique opportunity for Labor to show its capacity as a reformist government capable of big picture ideas.
Practising as a solicitor requires strong written and oral advocacy. Being assertive is fundamental to these skills. On 10 July 2015 I spoke at the annual early career lawyers conference hosted by the Queensland Law Society. These are some of the key points from my speech on the importance of assertiveness in the workplace, in dealings with colleagues and in court.
Assertiveness is a way of communicating our feelings, thoughts, and believes in an open, honest manner without violating the rights of others. An assertive person should be confident in what they’re saying and who they are. An assertive person is verbally firm but relaxed. They speak fluently and with minimal hesitations. They should speak at an even pace. They do not yell or mumble. An assertive person maintains good eye contact. I think an assertive person can and should be empathetic as well as open to new ideas.
Assertiveness is not just about talking. It is also about listening. When not talking, an assertive person is receptive, maintains eye contact and shows non-verbal reactions.
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