Too young for alcohol, but premeditated murder gets special treatment in our farcical justice system

If you want to avoid real punishment for crimes ranging from car theft to knife murders, it pays to start your criminal career young, writes Madonna King

Mar 14, 2024, updated Mar 14, 2024
Emma Lovell died after being stabbed in the chest during a Boxing day house invasion. (Facebook: Emma Lovell)

Emma Lovell died after being stabbed in the chest during a Boxing day house invasion. (Facebook: Emma Lovell)

At 17, you can hold a driver’s licence and apply for a motorbike licence. You can register to both vote and to be an organ donor, have sex legally, go to the doctor, attend university and even join the Navy, Army or the Airforce, with parental support.

But if you plead guilty to a savage murder, break into someone’s home in the dead of night, engage in arson or robbery with violence or another heinous crime, your identity will be protected at all costs.

Your anonymity will be protected, so that you can serve your time and move on without the tarnish of anyone knowing about your violent past.

And it doesn’t stop there.

At 18, you can cast a vote and even run for parliament, spend the night gambling in a casino, get your own medicare card, buy alcohol and cigarettes, apply for a bank loan, participate in medical trials, drive a truck and join a jury.

But if you are being tried at 18 for a crime committed only a few months earlier, aged 17, no-one is still allowed to know your name.

The media can’t tell anyone who you are, because you, as the perpetrator, deserve to be ‘protected’ and anonymity means you will be able to move on, after any jail sentence, where you too can forget the torment inflicted on your victims.

It’s unlikely your victims will forget. Victim impact statements delivered in courts across south-east Queensland this week would break the most hardened of hearts.

A young woman telling a court room how her future had been wiped away by the years of rape inflicted by her father. A brother, looking at his sibling, with torment; probably still wondering why he killed their hard-working, hard-loving parents. A woman, whose sister was burnt by an evil and cowardly ex-husband describing a new world, without colour.

Is there any world now where we can justify the anonymity given to a teenager, whose violent crime has led to the death of another? Where this senseless, archaic and unfair rule should not be thrown out with the long list of excuses we now hear for the brutal crimes filling our court rooms?

Is anyone else sick of those excuses? A troubled childhood. A family who didn’t love him. Time spent in a war zone. Depression. Anxiety.

We all know people who have climbed out of their own disadvantage and become our role models. To choose not to do that cannot be accepted as a reason for violence.

Let’s just look at two examples from this week, where the unfathomable violence of teenagers has destroyed the lives of dozens of others.

Remember Emma Lovell, the 41-year-old mother, who was stabbed to death after confronting two intruders in Brisbane on Boxing Day in 2022?

One of those charged, who is now 18, this week pleaded guilty to murder. But we cannot name him for legal reasons.

Emma’s family cannot choose anonymity. Her husband was also stabbed. The assault become the catalyst for Queensland’s new youth justice laws. But that’s not much help for their two teenage daughters, who are now living adolescence with the memory of that night, and without their mother.

The second case involves another teenager who pleaded guilty to murdering Hervey Bay Uber driver Scott Cabrie. The teen was also 17 at the time of the offence.

So how did Scott Cabrie die?

It’s alleged he was killed during an attempted robbery, and forced into the boot of his car. He tried to escape, was chased, and fatally stabbed. His body was found at a boat ramp, some time later.

In addition to murder, that teen has also pleaded guilty to arson, armed robbery and unlawful use of a motor vehicle.

Both these youths were 17 when their crimes were committed. Both have pleaded guilty. Both are still to be sentenced. And both their identities are protected by law, because of their age.

Our politicians say they are working, night and day, to protect victims. Outside the plush chamber of Parliament, the stories of victims – and offenders – show otherwise.

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