Youth Court of SA

In Parliament - Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Mr DULUK (Davenport) (16:19:07): I also rise to speak to the bill, and thank the deputy leader for her contribution. I will not ever propose to be as detailed as she has been.

The Hon. J.R. Rau: Oh, come on.

Mr DULUK: It is the joys of not being a lawyer. Deputy Speaker, the ultimate objective of the Statutes Amendment (Youth Court) Bill 2015, from the way it has been presented, is unfortunately to save money. As Professor Rick Sarre, from the University of South Australia and Adelaide University Football Club fame, has observed—

Members interjecting:

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order!

Mr DULUK: —it appears the government is changing the court for cost rather than philosophical reasons. This is a great shame for this, and I suppose this is on the back of a government that has sold the forests, increased the emergency services levy, closed down police stations, and the next step is the Youth Court, which is very disappointing. Those funds that will be saved will principally come from allowing magistrates rather than judges to hear Youth Court matters and allowing magistrates to hear and determine major indictable trials within that court.

A youth court or children's court has been a feature of the South Australian justice system since the Kingston government way back in 1895 when they introduced the State Children Act. As a community, we have a youth court so as to do everything possible to prevent young offenders from becoming adult offenders. Accordingly, the present Youth Court has specialist judicial officers, family conferencing and a ban on media reporting. These measures, together with a special culture within that Youth Court, assist young offenders in their rehabilitation.

By and large, the current specialised system works. Very few young offenders become repeat offenders in their adult life. Young offenders often only offend once, face the court and its processes, and thereafter become productive young people in society, which is absolutely what we want, and full credit to the Youth Court in the way it handles these issues. It is wrong to think of the Youth Court as just another court.

Judge Peggy Fulton Hora, Adelaide's Thinker in Residence, emphasised in 2010 that the Youth Court judges must be experienced. The judges and lawyers of the Youth Court are, as I have said, specialised. Importantly, they are also experienced when it comes to developmental issues facing young people. The sentiment of Judge Peggy Fulton Hora and that of myself and those on this side of the house is a sentiment shared by the Law Society in its submission to the Attorney. Self-evidently, young people are our future. They require the most experienced judges and the most professional youth justice system. South Australia should always be aiming to meet or exceed best practice.

For reasons that I have already outlined and the reasons outlined by the shadow attorney-general, and no doubt by my colleague the member for Hartley to follow, this bill puts South Australia's youth justice system at risk for little financial benefit. Of course, the problems we face in the Youth Court are probably symptomatic of the problems that we face throughout our whole judicial system currently under this government and the general failure to resource our courts. The justice system is not a luxury. Instead, it is one of and perhaps the most important organ of our just society.

This government for many years has failed to provide for the courts and, amongst many of their failures, South Australian courts do not have a comprehensive e-filing system. This increases the cost of dealing with the courts, particularly for litigants. The IT system overall is no longer fit for purpose. His Honour Chief Justice Kourakis has remarked in this respect in regard to the IT system failures. The Supreme Court itself is a complex and ageing relic. When former chief justice Doyle broke his leg, he found his own building did not have disabled access. The building has been subject to rising damp, plaster sometimes falls from the ceiling, and the Premier himself has remarked, 'Those who use the courts have had to put up with substandard facilities for too long.'

There are insufficient judicial officers to process the workload of criminal cases in our state. As David Edwardson QC observed late last year, 'Our courts are the worst in the country, we are completely under-resourced and there are not enough courtrooms or judges…it's that simple.' The failure to resource the courts has real consequences. It has been reported that inmates yet to be tried are being held at G division at Yatala. That division comprises punishment cells. It is only designed for short-term occupation. David Edwardson QC also remarked:

It's all very well to have a 'pack, rack and stack' mentality but you have to be able to process all these prisoners. To do that, you need adequate prisons, resourced courts and the right number of judges.

The Chief Justice sat recently as a magistrate, and I commend him for taking an active interest in front-line justice. He has made measured and thoughtful comments about the state of the courts and the need for more resources. I urge the Attorney to listen to the Chief Justice, the Law Society and to those on this side of the house, and to do the right thing by the Youth Court and not slash its capacity as a court for the sake of saving money.