Seen and heard: priority for children in the legal process (1997)

Seen and heard: priority for children in the legal process (1997)

Report of the National Inquiry into Children and the Legal Process

The Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Law Reform Commission jointly undertook a National Inquiry into Children and the Legal Process. The report of the inquiry is Seen and heard: priority for children in the legal process was tabled in Federal Parliament in November 1997. It remains the most comprehensive examination of young people and the legal system undertaken in Australia.

The inquiry received extensive evidence of the problems and failures of legal processes for children. This included evidence of:

  • discrimination against children;
  • a consistent failure by the institutions of the legal process to consult with and listen to children in matters affecting them;
  • a lack of co-ordination in the delivery of, and serious deficiencies in, much needed services to children, particularly to those who are already vulnerable;
  • the increasingly punitive approach to children in a number of juvenile justice systems;
  • the over-representation of some groups, particularly Indigenous children, in the juvenile justice and care and protection systems;
  • the concentration of specialist services and programs in metropolitan areas, disadvantaging rural and remote children in their access to services, the legal process and advocacy;
  • court processes which are bewildering and intimidating for children; and
  • school exclusion processes which deny young people basic rights of procedural fairness and natural justice and seriously diminish their life chances.

The recommendations of the report aim to give full effect to the right of children to be seen and heard in the legal process. They include the establishment of a federal Office for Children to co-ordinate the development of policies and programs affecting children. Priority areas include the development of national standards in the areas of school discipline, care and protection, investigative interviewing of children and juvenile justice.

Summary of findings and recommendations