Perth Children Charged with Attempting to Unlawfully Kill a Teacher
Two children were recently charged with attempting to unlawfully kill a teacher at Willetton Senior High School in Perth. The female teacher was allegedly stabbed with a knife, and two teenagers, aged 13 and 14 have faced the Children’s Court.
The court heard allegations that the older child brought the kitchen knife, and the younger one hid it. The court also heard allegations that the children had discussed killing the teacher and also burning down the school weeks earlier.
The Charge of Attempting to Unlawfully Kill
Under section 283 of the Criminal Code Compilation Act in Western Australia, any person who: attempts to unlawfully kill another; or with intent to unlawfully kill another does any act, or omits to do an act which it is their duty to do, such an act or omission being of such a nature as to be likely to endanger human life, is guilty of a crime.
The maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
Statutory alternatives to this offence include the following criminal offences:
- Section 292: Disabling in order to commit indictable offence
- Section 294: Act intended to cause grievous bodily harm
- Section 297: Grievous bodily harm
- Section 298: Suffocation and strangulation
- Section 304: Act or omission causing bodily harm or danger
- Section 305: Setting dangerous thing
- Section 317 Assault causing bodily harm
Possible Defences to the charge include:
- Self defence
- There was no intention to kill
- No act had been done to put the intention to kill into execution
- The act done could not have killed the person and the accused knew this
- Identification (ie. the accused is not the person who intended to kill the victim).
Age of Criminal Responsibility
In Western Australia, the age of criminal responsibility is 10 years of age. This means that children 10 years and over can be held criminally responsible for their actions.
However, because the teenagers who have been charged are under the age of 18 years, their matters will be determined in the Children’s Court jurisdiction.
Sentencing Principles under the Young Offenders Act 1994
Sentencing principles in the Children’s Court adhere to the special rules relating to the sentencing of children which are contained in the Young Offenders Act 1994 (WA) ('the Act').
The principles and considerations to be applied to the sentencing of young offenders are contained in s 7, s 47 and s 120 of the Act. In essence, detaining a young person in custody for an offence must only be used as a sentence of last resort and, if required, is only to be for as short a time as is necessary.
The Act places significant emphasis on the sentencing objective of rehabilitation: WO (a child) v Western Australia (2005) 153 A Crim R 352 [at paragraph 362]. As stated in that case, underlying the emphasis on rehabilitation is the long established understanding that the community is best protected by determined efforts to effect the rehabilitation of young offenders. Although retribution, punishment and general deterrence are also relevant sentencing objectives under the Act, they are ordinarily given significantly reduced weight particularly when the offender is still a child.
In R v ALH (2003) 6 VR 276 at  Cummins AJA explained as follows:
Children should be protected by the mantle of the criminal law, not oppressed by it. The time of Aethelstan although not illuminated by the insights of modern developmental psychology well understood the humanity and justice of protecting children from the full rigor of the criminal law. The wisdom of such protection is manifest…….No civilised society regards children as accountable for their actions to the same extent as adults. The ancient sense of justice and modern cognitive psychology come together properly to protect children in their development to adulthood.
Sentencing Options for Young Offenders
The Children’s Court has a range of sentencing options . The Young Offenders Act establishes a hierarchy of penalties.
The final three in the hierarchy are an intensive youth supervision order, an intensive youth supervision order with a custodial sentence otherwise known as a conditional release order and a term of immediate detention. An intensive youth supervision order without a sentence of detention can be for a period not exceeding 2 years.
A conditional release order cannot exceed 12 months.
Western Australian Cases and Statistics
In 2016, an 11-year old boy was one of four people charged over the killing of a Perth man. He was jailed for four years for the lesser offence of manslaughter and served that time at a juvenile detention facility.;
At the time, the case made headlines around Australia because the young boy was thought to be the youngest person ever to face a murder charge. It was also unfathomable to many that a boy so young could have been mixed up in a brawl that led to Patrick Slater being stabbed with a screwdriver.
Statistics show that about 5 percent of murders in Australia are committed by people younger than 18 years. Psychologists say that children and teens who commit murder or other types of violent crimes tend to have previously suffered some kind of trauma themselves, but do have good chances of turning their lives around if they are dealt with a combination of punishment, rehabilitation and support.
PLEASE NOTE: The material in this blog post is for informational use only and should not be construed as legal advice. For answers to your questions regarding this or other topics, please contact a professional legal representative.