Kids in P labs law lacking - police union

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 13:51 04/12/2013

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A bill targeting P-cooks who produce the drug around children does not go far enough, the Police Association says.

Police say they are frustrated with their lack of ability to keep children out of potentially contaminated homes and that there is "broad agreement" that legislation makes it difficult to hold to account those responsible for child endangerment.

The Sentencing (Protection of Children from Criminal Offending) Amendment Bill would see any crime committed in front of a minor, aged 16 years or under, become an aggravating factor during sentencing.

It is aimed at those who endanger children as a result of criminal activity including those who manufacture P when children are present.

In a submission to Parliament's law and order committee today, the Police Association said it was concerned the bill as drafted did not do enough.

"It is widely agreed that some form of legislative response is needed to address these concerns," the submission says. "However, whether or not this particular bill will be effective in its aim of protecting children from the harms experienced by being exposed to methamphetamine production is another question."

The association said that under present legislation there was a low rate of successful prosecutions for child-related charges in connection with P labs as charges had to be laid under current child-abuse laws and the Crown had to prove the exposure was wilful and physically or mentally detrimental.

This was difficult to prove.

The association pointed to the number of children found in labs and houses where drugs were dealt - about 34 per cent of all labs discovered this year.

Of the 94 clandestine labs found in 2012, children were in 27 of them and 45 children were affected, it said.

Of the 687 drug-dealing houses found last year, 35 per cent of them (238) were found to have children in them. A total of 547 children were identified.

Drugs have been found in labs in reach of children and stored in food and drink containers.

"In one case, a child's school drink bottle, complete with a name and school room number, was found to contain highly acidic chemicals," the submission read.

It also referred to ESR tests in the same period that found methamphetamine in hair samples in 23 of 26 children.

"There was a real risk to children as a result of the exposure," it said.

"With so many toxic chemicals present in the manufacture of methamphetamine, there is a real risk of accidental ingestion in children which can cause serious injury or even death."

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The association said there was "broad agreement" that current legislation made it difficult to hold to account those responsible for child endangerment.

The new bill would allow judges to take the presence of children in P labs into account at sentencing but the Police Association said the drafting of the bill was too prescriptive, and seeking to describe the detail of the aggravating behaviour could inadvertently create loopholes.

This was compounded by the fact the offence had to be committed in the presence of a minor to be taken into account as an aggravating factor.

"It is our view that aggravating factors need only provide sufficient guidance to a sentencing judge as to the essential nature of the conduct that must be viewed as aggravating an offence," the association said.

"The judge can then weigh the particular facts of the case in determining an appropriate sentence uplift."

Caregivers should also be held to account as well as the primary offender.

- Stuff

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