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Letter to Attorney-General re naming of youth offenders


The Law Society Northern Territory (the Society) notes your support for reform in the area of youth justice. In light of this the Society is again calling on you to introduce urgent amendments to the Youth Justice Act (Act) to prevent the publication of information identifying youth who come in contact with the justice system.

Currently, in the Northern Territory, a youth who has been accused of any crime no matter how trivial, who has been arrested and not yet charged, can have their name and other identifying features published in the media. The Society understands the clear public interest and your personal commitment to rehabilitating and reintegrating juveniles back into the community and that this must be balanced against the public interest in open justice. You are no-doubt aware that research demonstrates that naming and shaming does not have any positive rehabilitate outcome[1]. Furthermore, naming juveniles stigmatises youths and has a negative impact on their rehabilitation prospects and potentially leading to increased offending[2].

The Society applauds the ?sentenced to a job? initiative but is concerned that the stigmatisation of juveniles through publication of their identity diminishes the effectiveness of employment as a rehabilitation strategy. All other jurisdictions in Australia, afford protection to young people coming into contact with the justice system, usually throughout the entire process.

In 2012, the President of the Northern Territory Criminal Lawyers Association, Russel Goldflam remarked that naming and shaming offenders was often seen as a badge of achievement for some juveniles[3].

The Act appears to incorporate some sections from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, such as article 40. Article 40 provides: children accused of a criminal offence must be treated in a manner which takes into account the child?s age and the desirability of promoting the child?s reintegration and the child assuming a constructive role in society.[4]

As such, the Society is of the view that it is the intention of the Act to regulate the publication of the identities of young people, all the way through the process of the juvenile justice system. Furthermore the Society is concerned that as the Minister for Families, permitting the publication does not fit within the well-established principle that the best interest of the child is to be at the forefront of decision making.

The long term effects of publication of identity are a growing concern particularly in the age of digital media and in a small jurisdiction such as the Northern Territory.

The Society thus calls upon you to enact an amendment to the Act to cover the period prior to charges being laid and to include juveniles who are reasonably likely to become involved in criminal proceedings so that there is a clear the prohibition that commences at the moment the juvenile becomes the subject of charges, or is reasonably likely to be the subject of police activities.[5]

The Society requests that you give this your urgent attention and would be happy to be consulted on the draft amendments.

[1] Johnston A., ?The Privacy Commissioner?s Report on Child Offenders and Privacy?, Position Paper, 23 July 2002, p 3

[2] Johnston A., ?The Privacy Commissioner?s Report on Child Offenders and Privacy?, Position Paper, 23 July 2002, p 2, quoted in Submission 16, Shopfront Youth Legal Centre, p 7

[4] See ss.4(b)(f), (n) Youth Justice Act

As per Recommendation 4 ? Standing Committee on Law and Justice

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