Push to get judges familiar with Bill

The new Chief Justice Leslie Haynes is being tasked with getting his judges familiar with the Child Protection Bill legislation.

Speaking on the Bill last Friday in Parliament, Attorney General Dale Marshall said that matters falling under this bill had to be dealt with by the judiciary with “urgency”.

“I have told the Minister (Kirk Humphrey) that with the swearing-in of a new Chief Justice, which happened today [last Friday], that I will make sure that his department meets with the Chief Justice at the earliest opportunity because this legislation has the potential to throw a significant number of new kinds of applications and our judges need to be made aware of what it will involve,” Marshall said.

He noted: “Judges don’t practise their craft in vacuo, they get training in all kinds of things and we are going to be meeting with the Chief Justice to say, ‘Chief Justice, we have new legislation coming. We need your judges to be familiar with it to develop protocols for how they want to deal with these matters, but the most important protocol has to be one of urgency.’

“These matters are not going to be matters that you can afford to adjourn and adjourn and adjourn and adjourn – kick the can down the road – these are matters that are going to have to be dealt with urgently,” Marshall emphasised.

He expressed confidence that the Family Division of the Supreme Court, which he pointed out had two to three sitting judges, “will be more than able to handle the applications that are thrown at it”.

However, he said: “We have to have a dialogue with the current Chief Justice who has just been sworn in so that his judges are on the same page.”

Speaking of the role of the court, he said “Because of the new structures that we are putting in place there will be opportunity for the court to get involved in a way that hardly exists now.”

“Section 40 says the court may, on the application of the director, make an order for supervision of a child by the director or a person recommended by the director to perform the duties of a supervisor,” he added.

Pointing out that what obtained now was for the Child Care Board to make a decision to either remove the child or not, he said: “This bill now brings the concept of supervision which never existed before. The court has to be satisfied that a child is in need of care and protection. The supervision order may require a child, or the child and his parents, to report to the supervisor at a place and an interval stated by the supervisor – the child is not removed from the parent.”

Marshall further noted that the Director of the new Child Protection Agency “had a wide range of discretion and provisions that allowed state intervention in a way that doesn’t rip apart families”.

In addition, he said there was not a lot of penal provisions in the legislation but that did not mean it was
not being treated seriously.

“This act in many respects tells people what we expect of them, it tells people in quite clear terms the standards to which we intend to hold you in relation to the children under your charge . . .”

On the mandatory reporting, Marshall said people who failed to report on matters which placed children at risk would not face criminal charges but could be fined.

He explained there was a requirement for mandatory reporting by a category of individuals determined to be in locus parentis of a child such as teachers, police, priests.

“This administration has taken a decision that what we call administrative breaches will not be dealt with
in the court system, so we are not going to be charging anybody with a criminal offence.

“That will be appropriate in some instances but for administrative breaches, which is a failure to do something that you ought to have done but with no criminal intent involved . . .

“It does not mean that it is not serious because the life and well-being of a child could be at stake, but what we are saying [is] we are not going to treat you as a criminal but the penalty is going to be fairly stiff; the penalty is $5 000,” the Attorney General said, noting that those aggrieved could still apply to the High Court for relief.

Further debate on the Resolution: Report Of Joint Select Committee (Standing) On Social Sector And The Environment On The Child Protection Bill 2023 was postponed.

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