26 September 2023

Age of young crime still a crime say experts

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All 16 of Australia’s Children’s Commissioners, Guardians and Advocates have come together to call on the Attorneys-General in the country to raise the age of young persons’ criminal responsibility.

In a joint statement, the Australian Children’s Commissioners, Guardians and Advocates said a recent commitment from State Attorneys-General to develop a proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years old did not go far enough.

In signing the statement, Commissioner for Children and Young People in Victoria, Liana Buchanan said she was pleased that some jurisdictions had, for the first time, indicated they would look at raising the age, “but this process is not going far enough or fast enough”.

“The minimum age of criminal responsibility in all Australian States and Territories should be 14 years,” Ms Buchanan said.

“That is what the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has recommended, based on a wealth of evidence and expert advice, and it is the international benchmark,” she said.

“Furthermore, it is now three years since Attorneys-General began reviewing the age of criminal responsibility and still there has been no substantive change in any jurisdiction.”

Ms Buchanan said this lack of change was despite conclusive evidence, unanimous expert advice and widespread popular support for urgent action, “that would have an immediate effect on breaking cycles of disadvantage, reducing recidivism and providing better outcomes for affected children, as well as increased safety for the wider community”.

The Commissioner said there was an urgent need for legislation to be tabled in each Australian State and Territory that would raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years.

“We acknowledge that such legislation cannot occur in isolation and must be accompanied by system-wide reform of the kind proposed in the Review recently published by the ACT Government,” she said.

“We urge all jurisdictions to prioritise the twin actions of legislating to raise the age of criminal responsibility and implementing holistic systems of early intervention and diversion.”

Ms Buchanan said the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that there were 499 children under the age of 14 who spent time in detention between June 2019 and June 2020 throughout Australia – but only 43 of those were aged under 12.

The four-page Meeting of Attorneys-General (MAG) Communiqué –November 2021 can be accessed at this PS News link and the 102-page Review of the service system and implementation requirements for raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility in the Australian Capital Territory: Final Report can be accessed at this link.

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