Magistrate was 'too harsh’ on 13-year-old girl, says judge

MAGISTRATE John Smith believes that a 13-year-old girl who broke the law is old enough to know right from wrong.

But the Court of Appeal has judged that he did not properly take the girl's age into account when sentencing the teenager for damaging six cars at a Maryborough sale yard.

The girl, who cannot be named, appeared before Maryborough Children's Court after she was charged with entering Port City Autos and damaging the cars on January 6.

The value of the damage was estimated to be $20,000.

On January 7, the girl was caught drinking alcohol at a Child Safety-approved placement.

She refused to hand over the alcohol and became aggressive, according to information provided in court documents, damaging three windows, a mailbox and some crockery.

Later that night she used a black marker to write on the wall of her bedroom.

During the original sentencing, Mr Smith said: "She's 14 on the 24th of August. If you don't know right from wrong at 14, there's something wrong. She knew what she is doing is wrong. No one has convinced me otherwise".

After appearing before Maryborough Children's Court the girl was sentenced to 30 days in detention, to be served by way of a conditional release order.

On appeal, that sentence was reduced to 12 months' probation and no convictions were recorded.

The appeal was heard by Judge Brad Farr, who said at the time of the offences the girl had been told her father and brother would not be able to visit her.

Documents submitted to the court suggested that as a result of not living with her parents since she was a young child, the girl's ability to deal with feelings of rejection and abandonment had been significantly impacted.

That resulted in the girl "acting out", self harming, abusing substances and lashing out at others.

During the appeal, the court was told that the magistrate presiding over the initial sentence did not adequately take into account these personal factors during sentencing.

Judge Farr said there was a failure to take into account the age of the girl at the time when the offences were committed, and that was reason enough to reconsider the sentence.

"There has been an error in the sentencing process and it is inevitable that this court therefore should sentence afresh."

Judge Farr said the pre-sentence report portrayed a picture of a child in need of assistance, support and guidance.

"For a child of 13 years of age with only one prior conviction, with her background, it is, in my view, essential that her rehabilitation be given such predominance," Judge Farr said.

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