On 16 February 2021, I tabled a report of the independent inquiry into child protection undertaken by Paul Rice QC. The government has accepted the six recommendations and taken additional steps to address the issues highlighted in the report. The Statutes Amendment (Recommendations of Independent Inquiry into Child Protection) Bill 2021 implements the two recommendations in the report that require legislative amendment, being recommendations Nos 5 and 6.
The bill (1) increases the penalty for failing to comply with directions made by the Chief Executive of the Department for Child Protection under section 86 of the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017 to three years for a first offence and four years for any subsequent offences and (2) designates a person arrested for breach of written directions made under section 86 of the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017 as a 'prescribed applicant' for the purposes of section 10A of the Bail Act 1985 so that the presumption in favour of bail does not apply.
Mr Rice QC examined the circumstances around sexual offending in relation to two young people who were under the guardianship of the Chief Executive of the Department for Child Protection. One of the matters considered by Mr Rice QC involved a 20-year-old man who engaged in unlawful sexual offending with a young person who was 13 to 14 years old at the time of the offending.
On 1 November 2019, the chief executive issued written directions to the offender under section 86 of the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017. The offender breached those directions and was arrested for doing so. The offender was subsequently released on bail. On 2 January 2020, the offender was again served with written directions. He breached the written directions and was arrested again in March 2020.
In response to the pattern of breaching written directions, being arrested, being granted bail and then breaching further written directions, Mr Rice QC has recommended that the penalties for a breach of written directions should be increased. The current maximum penalty is imprisonment for 12 months. Mr Rice QC said, and I quote:
Bearing in mind…that the Department was endeavouring to prevent the continued sexual abuse of a child under guardianship (which carries a maximum of life imprisonment), a threat of a maximum sentence of 12 months' imprisonment is substantially inadequate.
Mr Rice QC said 'a maximum penalty of 3 years' imprisonment for breach of a written direction would appear reasonable when taking into consideration the nature of the offending, general deterrence and the safety of the child involved'. He recommended this approach in recommendation 5 of his report. The recommendation is given effect by clause 5 of the bill.
Mr Rice QC also made a recommendation in relation to the granting of bail where a person has breached written directions. He noted that the offender in the matter described above was 'given bail on the breach and promptly continued to offend against the child…One way of endeavouring to stop those ongoing breaches is to make bail more difficult upon arrest for a breach'.
Mr Rice QC recommended that the consideration be given to making a person arrested for breach of written directions a 'prescribed applicant' for the purposes of section 10A of the Bail Act. This means that the person would not be granted bail unless they can establish the existence of 'special circumstances' justifying their release on bail.
The presumption in favour of bail in section 10 of the Bail Act does not apply. This recommendation is given effect by clause 4 of the bill. Written directions issued by the Chief Executive of the Department for Child Protection are an important mechanism for keeping young people safe. They are only able to be issued if the chief executive believes it is reasonably necessary either to prevent harm to a child or young person, or to prevent the child or young person from engaging in or being exposed to conduct of a criminal nature. The bill introduces measures to increase compliance with written directions, which will in turn improve the safety and wellbeing of children and young people under the guardianship of the Chief Executive of the Department for Child Protection. The consequences of not complying with written directions will be made far more serious by this bill.
We are acting swiftly to address the issues in Mr Rice's report, we are committed to introducing this legislation within 30 days and we have achieved that. We also took additional steps to address the issues in the report.
I commend the bill to members. I seek leave to have the explanation of clauses inserted in Hansard without my reading it. I can say that I have had some indication from the opposition of their support to this approach and so I am entirely in their hands as to when we progress it. But I think the urgency on this matter has been identified, and I appreciate the opposition's support in not attempting to frustrate that in any way.
Explanation of Clauses
These clauses are formal.
Part 2—Amendment of Bail Act 1985
4—Amendment of section 10A—Presumption against bail in certain cases
This clause amends section 10A of the principal Act to extend the presumption against bail to include an applicant taken into custody in relation to an offence against section 86(4) of the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017.
Part 3—Amendment of Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017
5—Amendment of section 86—Direction not to communicate with, harbour or conceal child or young person
This clause amends section 86 of the principal Act to increase the maximum penalty for an offence against the section to 3 years' imprisonment for a first offence, and 4 years for a second or subsequent offence.
Debate adjourned on motion of Ms Hildyard.