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Opening of the legal year focus on rule of law

Opening of the legal year focus on rule of law

By Law Institute Journal

Ceremonies 


Violent youth offending is best tackled by targeting early intervention with at-risk families, multi-agency interventions and addressing peer influences, according to the Children’s Court president Judge Amanda Chambers. Judge Chambers was guest speaker at the community opening of the legal year at the County Court on 30 January, an event run by the International Commission of Jurists and supported by the LIV. In her address (see the full text on p22), Judge Chambers said apprehension rates for children and young people in Victoria continued to go down. Young people sentenced in the Children’s Court dropped from 5844 in 2010 to 3341 in 2015. A mere 0.02 per cent, or 103 young people aged 10-17, were ordered detained in 2015. “We at the Court believe it is due in part to an increased emphasis on police cautioning, diversion and early intervention,” Judge Chambers said. However, Victoria is experiencing increased rates of apprehension for a small but significant number of recidivist offenders, many committing serious violent offences. “This is rightly concerning to the community and justifies special attention.” Other speakers at the 10th community opening were students Andreas Zakhari from Braybrook Secondary College and Mary Zhang from Narre Warren South College, and there was a guest conversation between singer and activist Archie Roach and 2016 Senior Australian of the Year Jack Charles facilitated by ABC Radio’s Namila Benson. Mr Roach, who is patron of the Parkville College at the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre, spoke about Indigenous youth incarceration. “We need to give them the tools to deal with life while they are incarcerated so they can cope with life. They don’t have them. They [in the media] have been bashing these kids, really sinking the boot in to these kids. “I don’t condone what they’ve done but it’s like little ones before they can communicate through language. The only way they can communicate is through lashing out, whether physically or verbally. We have to listen to these young people and understand what they are trying to say.” Former Federal Court judge Ron Merkel QC was awarded the John Gibson Award, which annually recognises a legal practitioner who has distinguished themselves by advancing and promoting human rights or refugee issues in the public domain or legal sphere. Mr Merkel, described as the “go-to guy for the hardest public law cases”, had devoted significant time pro bono throughout his career to worthy causes and cases, many in the High Court. “Principle counts. When it comes to refugees, Indigenous Australians and youth justice we seem to have a community principle that is imposed upon us by government," Mr Merkel said “We are calling out through our premier and ministers for more and more punishment and we see what that is doing to the youth. They are responding in ways they understand – being punished means you pay back. It’s becoming a contest of an eye for an eye.” Opening of the legal year events also included the Victoria Law Foundation legal laneway breakfast at which Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula spoke of the law’s response to the Bourke Street tragedy. “We have asked former Justice [Paul] Coghlan to provide the government with urgent advice on ways we might reform the bail system to best manage risk and maximise community safety," Mr Pakula said. “We do have an obligation as a government to keep our community safe and that means balancing that important responsibility of community safety within our justice system with a presumption of innocence.” Mr Pakula said the government would get good advice rather than “careening into what might be a knee-jerk response”. The interim step of an after-hours magistrate was in place to hear bail applications. He encouraged interested professionals to engage with Mr Coghlan and looked forward to his recommendations in April. “The advice many of you provide to government . . . is invaluable. I’d like to think we engage pretty well with the [legal] sector and I want to encourage you to continue to engage with us. On behalf of the government of Victoria I want to thank you for everything you do for the Victorian community but also for the preservation of the rule of law. “For those of us watching international events, the rule of law can sometimes have some reasonably precarious foundations so we need to guard it and guard it very jealously.” Mr Pakula said in 2017 a new standard sentencing scheme, replacing baseline sentencing, would be introduced; strategies to improve access to justice would be a focus; and a redress scheme for survivors of institutional childhood sexual abuse would be worked towards.

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