History of the reference

Request for submissions on the terms of the reference

1.6 Initially, the Inquiry sought submissions on the terms of reference. We received 169 submissions during September and October 1995, with suggestions on what specific issues the Inquiry should address within the broader area of children and the legal process.

Issues Papers and submissions

1.7 In March 1996, the Inquiry released two issues papers entitled Speaking for Ourselves: Children and the Legal Process. The first of these, Issues Paper 17 (IP 17), was a brief document aimed specifically at young people. Issues Paper 18 (IP 18), was a more comprehensive overview of the issues. Both documents called for comments.

1.8 We received 225 written submissions from individuals, organisations and government departments on the questions raised in our issues papers. This material has been invaluable to the Inquiry in assessing community concerns and priorities.

Public hearings

1.9 From April to August 1996, the Inquiry held a series of public hearings throughout Australia to take oral submissions from interested persons. Public hearings were held in Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Newcastle, Melbourne, Hobart, Perth, Kalgoorlie, Darwin, Alice Springs, Brisbane, Rockhampton and Parramatta. We heard oral submissions from over 170 people. This process enabled the Inquiry to hear directly from community members, including many young people, and organisations about their concerns regarding children and the legal process.

Practitioners’ forums

1.10 As part of the consultation process, the Inquiry also held a series of meetings with legal practitioners, and in some instances medical professionals and youth workers, in most of the cities that we visited for public hearings. These forums enabled the Inquiry to obtain detailed evidence from practitioners in different areas of children’s involvement in the legal process.

Focus groups and surveys

1.11 As well as holding public hearings, the Inquiry endeavoured to meet with groups of young people in each of the places visited. Approximately 100 young people participated in these focus groups around Australia. The number of participants at each meeting varied from 2 to 16 young people. Each group provided the Inquiry with extremely useful information about children’s impressions and experiences of legal processes. We thank the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre for its assistance in organising these focus groups.

1.12 In April 1996 the Inquiry distributed approximately 2000 copies of a specialised survey on legal issues to young people in government and independent schools and in detention centres throughout Australia. The 843 responses we received have been entered on a data base. The focus groups and the surveys provided the Inquiry with detailed, first-hand information about children’s views on their experiences with the legal process and their suggestions regarding these processes.

Statistical information

1.13 The Inquiry requested, and was provided with, statistical information on children’s involvement with legal processes from judges, courts and tribunals, government agencies such as family services, education and juvenile justice departments, Directors of Public Prosecutions (DPPs), legal aid commissions and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). These statistics, many of which had never before been collected or reported on a national scale, provide a detailed picture of the extent to which children are involved in the legal process and were of great assistance in the preparation of this Report.


1.14 Over the course of the Inquiry, we also consulted directly with individuals and organisations who have extensive dealings with children in different legal processes or who are experts in legal processes that affect children. The information and assistance received during these processes was of great benefit to the Inquiry, providing additional insight about the experiences of children in the legal process and informing the directions of our research.

1.15 The honourary consultants for this Inquiry provided continuing assistance throughout the reference.[4] In addition to meetings held on 8 December 1995 and 5 March 1997, the consultants provided detailed comments on specific chapters of this Report and on the general direction of our research. We also sought comments from academics and experts in various fields of children’s law. The Inquiry is grateful for the assistance of our consultants and other experts.

Draft Recommendations Paper

1.16 A Draft Recommendations Paper (DRP 3) entitled A Matter of Priority: Children and the Legal Process was released on 20 May 1997 to give an indication of the directions of the Inquiry in terms of priority issues of concern and proposals for reform. As the Inquiry covered an extremely wide range of issues, DRP 3 gave a brief introduction to each subject, outlined the key issues and arguments and provided drafts of the suggested recommendations. It sought the comments of interested persons or organisations on all these issues.

1.17 The Inquiry received 92 submissions on DRP 3. The great majority of these submissions were supportive of the draft recommendations, although many also had further suggestions and comments on specific recommendations. The import of these submissions is discussed in appropriate sections throughout this Report.

[4] A list of consultants is included at appendix A.