The Queensland government is facing pressure to tighten its already strict bail laws after two teenagers were arrested for the alleged murder of 41-year-old mother Emma Lovell.
Lovell, originally from Suffolk in the UK, was stabbed in the chest at her home in North Lakes in Moreton Bay on Boxing Day, during an alleged home invasion.
Her husband, Lee, 43, received a non-life threatening wound in his back.
On Tuesday, police charged two 17-year-old boys with one count of murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of breaking and entering.
The Queensland police assistant commissioner, Cheryl Scanlon, told reporters on Wednesday the investigation into why the teenagers were in the Lovells’ street, and why they targeted that home, was ongoing.
Scanlon did not confirm reports police had had prior contact with the teenagers before Monday.
She attempted to tamp down concerns about the incident as indicative of broader problems with youth crime in the state.
“These are complex and multifaceted issues, and this conversation is important for the community,” Scanlon, who is also the head of the youth justice taskforce, said. “Youth crime is as complex an issue as some of the things that we see in domestic violence and other wicked problems in the community …
“Those things are not fixed overnight and they would take considerable effort by all agencies and everyone in the community.
The police minister, Mark Ryan, cited the number of young people who have been denied bail as proof of Queensland’s tough stance on youth crime.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Queensland has had the highest youth detention population in the country since September 2020. In the June quarter of 2022, there were an average of 278.6 people aged 10-17 in detention on any given night, of which 89% were unsentenced – meaning they had been denied bail. Nationally, about 78% of young people in detention are unsentenced.
The Queensland Labor government has also voted against laws to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14, a reform being investigated by the national council of attorneys general at the urging of the United Nations.
“Our youth bail laws are the strongest in the nation, and there’s been a significant increase in the number of young people held in custody as a result of those law changes,” Ryan said. “That means more young people in custody more often.
“We have also seen, [due to] the reforms that the government has delivered over the last few years, an increase in the number of young people who are being held in custody for longer.”
He said the government had been criticised for its approach to bail laws, with most experts saying detention should be an option of last resort for children. He claimed the laws were necessary to stymie youth crime.
In the last 12 months there had been over 17,000 bail compliance activities conducted by police, reflecting a “significant increase from previous years”, Ryan said.
“My view and the view of the government is very clear on that and that is there has to be consequence for action and there also has to be an opportunity for the community to be protected from serious offenders.
“And one way to protect the community and to provide consequence for action is to ensure that young people are detained in custody.”