Latest News & Updates

Welcome announcement by Victorian Government to strengthen police integrity

We welcome the announcement today by the Victorian Government to strengthen police integrity. We wait for the detail but call for significant investment in IBAC to enable them to conduct independent investigations of not only corrupt police but also those who abuse their powers and mistreat the public.

Independent investigation of serious complaints against police are long overdue . The Victorian cross parliamentary Inquiry into the Police Complaints system in 2019 recommended IBAC be expanded with funding & powers to independently investigate serious police complaints . The Victorian Government  in December 2019 accepted this and all recommendations of the Inquiry.

Youthlaw and others who have monitored treatment by police of vulnerable Victorians commend this important step to ensure police interactions with the community are of the highest standard and accountable .

Recent press coverage of a significant number of incidents where police mistreated usually highly vulnerable people , has highlighted the need for police to be held more accountable .

Currently 99% of complaints to police whether serious or not are all handled and investigated internally in Victoria Police.  Police have enormous powers including handling of weaponry and charging citizens. These powers need to be overseen and monitored to ensure they are not misused.

The vast majority of police demonstrate skill & compassion in the interactions with the public . For those who do the right thing ,those who don’t must be held accountable & weeded out.

Over 20 years we have seen young people mistreated by police but unwilling to complain because of fear of repercussion either by local police or in the court .  This needs to change .

Ariel Couchman

CEO Young People’s Legal Rights Centre

Mobile : 0438812937

( note unavailable today 7-5-21 from 10.30 to 12 & 2-3pm )

Ariel Couchman

CEOhttp://www.youthlaw.asn.au/wp-content/uploads/oldlogo.jpg

Youth Coalition support spent convictions scheme

We the undersigned member agencies of Smart Justice for Young People, come together to express our collective support for the scheme proposed in the Spent Convictions Bill.

Smart Justice for Young People – a coalition of over 50 social services, health, legal, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, youth advocacy organisations and academic experts – has been advocating for a spent conviction scheme in Victoria for many years. Spent convictions are those convictions that have reached a set period (i.e. 10 years for an adult offence and 5 years for a child offence) and are removed so they no longer show on an individual’s police criminal record check. Such a scheme is designed to reduce the damaging effect old criminal records can have on people looking for employment, as well as when they try to secure housing or apply for volunteer work.

Victoria is the only state or territory in Australia that does not have a spent convictions scheme.  Victoria Police currently have discretion about whether to disclose convictions.

The Spent Conviction Bill currently being debated in the upper house of Victorian Parliament. The Bill proposes that some convictions will be spent automatically after the set period (all offences by a young person under 15 years and minor offences of those 15 years and over) but for other more serious offences an application for approval is made to the Court to have them spent.

We confirm that the provision immediately spending convictions for children under 15 years is good public policy based on medical evidence that gives children the best chance to not be stigmatised by their past, but rather rehabilitate and move on with their lives.

We support the Bill based on the following fundamental principles:

  • Acknowledgment of the differential developmental stages and needs of children;
  • Promotion of rehabilitation and restorative responses and removal of discriminatory barriers impacting the most vulnerable in our community.

Acknowledgement of the differential developmental stages and needs of children

Under the Bill, children aged under 15 years would have their convictions spent immediately, in recognition of the fact that different approaches are needed to supporting children in comparison to adults. 

Research into brain development consistently shows that children’s brains are still developing and they are, in general, less able than adults to form good judgements.[1]

By spending convictions committed by children under 15, we acknowledge the developmental difference between adults and children and capacity for rehabilitation and change, supported by evidence and our collective work on the ground with marginalised young people.

Concerns have been raised regarding the provision of the Bill to spend convictions for children under 15 where they relate to serious offences. However we wish to highlight that offences of a serious nature committed by young people are rare,[2] rather most children are in the criminal justice system for minor offending and convictions.

In any case, even with the introduction of this scheme, children will still be sentenced within the criminal justice system in the same way and be held accountable for their offending.

It is also important to re-state that under the scheme, in order for a conviction to become eligible to be spent automatically, a period of 5 years with no serious re-offending must be completed by the child.

The provision within the Bill to ‘spend’ the convictions does not delete the convictions, they are just not disclosed for certain purposes. Under the proposed legislation, police and courts will continue to have full access to criminal histories and records which will be released when required for certain employers and third parties to make necessary risk assessments.

Promotion of rehabilitation and restorative responses and removal of discriminatory barriers impacting the most vulnerable in our community

The scheme acknowledges children’s capacity for genuine change and rehabilitation.   We emphasise that many of those who have had contact with the justice system are particularly vulnerable, having often faced multiple layers of complex disadvantage in their lives, in circumstances beyond their control. Many have a history of trauma, abuse or neglect; experience mental health problems, drug or alcohol problems; cognitive disability; and/or have had involvement with child protection services and out-of-home care.

The impact of current legislation is also particularly felt by communities that are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system – particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and culturally and linguistically diverse communities who face compounding discriminatory barriers in terms of access to employment, education and housing.

Critically this scheme will reduce the damaging impact and barriers to education, employment and housing faced by some of the most vulnerable members of our community based on their historical criminal records. The scheme will give young people the opportunity to rehabilitate, and offers a vital second chance to adults who have previously committed an offence and provide an opportunity to set their lives on a better path. 

JOINTLY SIGNED by

Julie Edwards, Chief Executive Officer

Jesuit Social Services

Carmel Guerra, Chief Executive Officer

CMY (Centre for Multicultural Youth)

Emma King, Chief Executive Officer

Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) 

Marius Smith, Chief Executive Officer

VACRO

Andrew Bruun, Chief Executive Officer

YSAS (Youth Support – Advocacy Service)

Deb Tsorbaris, Chief Executive Officer

Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare

Dr Diana Johns, Senior Lecturer in Criminology

The University of Melbourne

Dr Mark Zirnsak, Senior Social Justice Advocate
Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Uniting Church in Australia

Meena Singh, Legal Director

Human Rights Law Centre.

Claudia Fatone, Chief Executive Officer

Fitzroy Legal Service

Melissa Hardham, Chief Executive Officer

WEstjustice

Ariel Couchman, Chief Executive Officer

Youthlaw

Mitty Williams Trustee

The Kimberley Foundation


[1] Cauffman, E., & Steinberg, L. (2000). (Im)maturity of judgment in adolescence: why adolescents may be less culpable than adults. Behavioral Sciences and the Law 18 (6).

[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics (2021) https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/crime-and-justice/recorded-crime-offenders/latest-release; Crime Statistics Agency. (2019). Latest crime data – Year ending June 2019. Retrieved from https://www.crimestatistics.vic.gov.au/crime-statistics/latest-crime-data

Federal ICAC well-overdue, but Victoria needs to strengthen IBAC

MEDIA RELEASE: 5 November 2020

Youthlaw welcomes the Federal Government’s proposal to establish a national anti-corruption body, but says that Victoria still needs to do more to strengthen its own Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC).

“We support the establishment of a federal oversight body, but it won’t replace the need to strengthen the anti-corruption system right here in Victoria,” said Ariel Couchman, CEO, Youthlaw.

The youth-focussed community legal centre called on the Andrews’ govermnet to fulfil it’s promise to implement the recommendation of the parliamentary cross party IBAC committee to establish independent investigation of all serious police complaints.

“The State Government has yet to fulfil that promise,” said Ms Andrews.

“Victoria needs to get its house in order when it comes to investigating police misconduct and misuse of power,” said Ms Couchman.

Youthlaw has expressed concerns that IBAC lacks the resources and power to properly investigate serious allegations of police misconduct, with most complaints against police being investigated internally by the police’s own Professional Standards Command.

A 2018 audit of the Victoria Police’s Professional Standard identified a number of concerns about PSC’s complaint handling procedures.

“If Victoria is serious about stamping out corruption and abuse of power, we must give our anti-corruption body the power it needs to be effective,” said Ms Couchman.

Saved from Omnibus bill, but ‘second-tier police force’ Bill set to pass under cover of COVID

MEDIA RELEASE – 13 October 2020

Youthlaw, Victoria’s free legal service for young people, has criticised new laws to expand the reach of armed Protective Services Officers (PSOs) that are expected to pass the Legislative Council this week, saying many laws were being introduced “under cover of COVID”.

Youthlaw’s CEO, Ariel Couchman, said it was inconsistent to listen to community concerns on some proposed laws, but not others, after the State Government last week amended the Omnibus Bill (COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020) before it was introduced to the Legislative Council.

“The Victorian Government listened to community concerns, and rolled back elements of the Omnibus Bill that would have allowed unspecified authorised officers to detain people on a ‘reasonable belief’ they would not comply with public health directions,” said Ms Ariel.

“And yet in the same week as the amended Omnibus Bill we will see a Bill enter the Legislative Council which will permit armed PSOs, with just 12 weeks of training, to operate in any public space – including shopping centres, roadways, public entertainment venues and sports grounds – with powers to detain, arrest and search,” she said.

“This Bill represents a significant blurring of the roles outside of the original parameters of the PSO program which saw them only deployed in and around the transport network. We can now expect to see more and more PSOS carrying out the work of the Victorian Police Force.”

“Under cover of COVID, the State Government is effectively building a second-tier police force, with a fraction of the training and no independent accountability,” she said.

There is wide held concern this Bill will expose already over policed cohorts of Victorians including young people, Aboriginal people to further engagement in the criminal justice system.

And it comes at a time when Victoria lacks any adequate accountability for police or PSO misconduct and has failed to respond to the IBAC Parliamentary Committee Report  into the external oversight of police corruption and misconduct in Victoria (2018)

“If passed this Bill will only heighten the feeling the Victoria is the police state. We commend the Victorian Government for listening to community concerns and amending the Omnibus Bill, and we urge them to do the same with the PSOs Bill. 

Media enquiries: Lanie Harris 0418 552 377 or mediacomms@youthlaw.asn.au

About Youthlaw

Youthlaw is a community legal service providing free legal advice and representation to young people under the age of 25. Youthlaw is a fearless advocate for young people, and strives for a just and equitable society for, and by, young people. It does this by addressing systemic legal and social justice issues in Victoria through community education, advocacy and law reform.