Victorian judge denies bail for 13-year-old facing ‘staggering’ 181 charges | Law (Australia)

A Victorian supreme court judge has denied bail for a 13-year-old facing 181 charges, saying that if released from youth detention there is a “near inevitability” he will offend again.

The boy, known to the court as RN, has been in custody since 30 November 2022. An application for bail was denied by the children’s court on 16 December.

He applied to the supreme court for bail on Monday, with his lawyer arguing that eight factors supported the application, including the boy’s lack of a criminal history, that the state’s youth justice department was concerned the boy was at risk of “early entrenchment in the criminal justice system” and that he was vulnerable in custody because of his age, a language disorder, and his general cognitive functioning.

But Justice Phillip Priest dismissed the application, finding that the alleged offences committed by the boy were “very serious, and cannot properly be characterised as childish mischief or as being merely of nuisance value”.

“In large part, the alleged offending is emblematic of an individual who has no respect whatsoever for person or property being involved in a crime spree,” Priest said.

“I consider much of the offending to be outrageous, dangerous and very disturbing.”

The decision comes as the Andrews government faces renewed calls to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 in the state, and as his government grapples with an overrepresentation of South Sudanese-Australian youth, such as RN, in the criminal justice system.

Priest said that by his calculation the boy faced a “staggering” 181 separate charges, including more than a dozen charges of aggravated burglary, multiple charges of home invasion, burglary, theft, robbery, attempted robbery, affray, intentionally causing injury, assault, assault in company, assault by kicking, and assault with a weapon.

In his decision, Priest said the boy was arrested eight times between 1 May and 30 November 2022, but continued to offend when released on bail.

The boy’s lawyer said that his client had spent 97 days in custody between 3 June and 30 December.

Police opposed bail during the hearing.

The court heard that a clinical psychologist found the boy was capable of understanding that his conduct was seriously wrong, negating the principle known as doli incapax.

In Victoria, the law presumes that a child aged between 10 and 14 lacks the capacity to be criminally responsible for his or her acts. The presumption of doli incapax is based on a view that a child is not sufficiently intellectually and morally developed to appreciate the difference between right and wrong.

But the psychologist’s report meant RN could not rely on this presumption. The boy’s lawyer, who did not return a request for comment, is seeking a second opinion.

The psychologist, who interviewed RN for his report, found that while it was difficult to establish retrospectively if RN knew that his conduct was seriously wrong, there were several factors that suggested he understood.

These included that he knew that committing acts such as smoking cannabis, stealing property, breaking into private homes and driving a car without a licence are illegal, that he demonstrated “a nuanced understanding of the relative seriousness of committing different crimes (eg. he stated that stealing a car was more serious than stealing a pencil)” and that he appeared to have “internalised a ‘code’ for committing violence whereby he believes it is wrong to punch a female but acceptable to punch a male”.

“He has [also] utilised methods to avoid being caught by Police for committing crime (eg., wearing gloves to ensure he would not leave fingerprints at the scene of a crime, paying taxi drivers cash to avoid being linked to the scene of a crime) again implying he is aware that such acts are illegal and would result in negative consequences to himself should he be caught,” the psychologist said.

One of the police officers listed as an informant for charges against RN said in a report to the court that he was “repeatedly offending in ways that leaves victims feeling traumatised”.

She said that RN and his associates had also been detected travelling in high-powered stolen cars at up to 213km/h through residential areas.

“Not only is the Applicant committing offences that emotionally affect his victims, his offending involves extremely high risk behaviour that if continued will undoubtably (sic) cause death or serious injury to the public, his associates or himself.”

RN will face the children’s court again on Friday.

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