Lawyers press Council of Attorney-Generals to raise age of criminal responsibility

By Tony Zhang|19 February 2020
raise age of criminal responsibility

The age of criminal responsibility must be raised to 14 years in accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has told the Council of Attorney-Generals in a submission on Tuesday.

Countless organisations and peak law bodies, both locally and internationally have criticised the Australian government’s failure to take action on this issue and ALA’s recent submission hopes the Australian government will listen.

Currently, the minimum age, 10 years, is the same for all Australian states and territories, however, the worldwide median age of criminal responsibility is 14 years.

“The current low age of criminal responsibility in Australia is in breach of human rights standards and puts Australia out of step with much of the rest of the world,” said Andrew Christopoulos.

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“Despite entreaties from so many experts over so many years, the regressive attitude of the Australian government has meant that change has yet to be actioned.

UN experts in a meeting last year had specifically asked why Australia is “arresting 10-year-olds in the street and were appalled to note that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 25 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous children.

The ALA has said that with a simple change, this can possibly make a considerable difference to the long-term prospects of hundreds of young people.

“Ten-year-old children should be at school and in the playground, not in the criminal justice system,” Mr Christopoulos said.

Previously The Law Council of Australia and Australian Medical Association had called on governments across Australia to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14.

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In a joint statement, LCA and AMA demanded action on the “national tragedy” of jailing children as young as 10 years old.

The Law Society of Northern Territory had also called for a change, where Indigenous children in NT had the biggest impact from a very broke system.

Data from the AIHW had highlighted more than $500 million was spent on youth detention last year alone, with the average cost per day per young person subject to detention-based supervision nationally being $1,455 over 2017-18.

The previously recommended age was 12 years, but 14 is the average age of jurisdictions worldwide. 

Another independent report by National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell which was presented to the UN last year had also recommended a national plan for child wellbeing and to appoint a cabinet-level minister with responsibility for driving children’s issues at the national level.

According to the ALA’s new submission, there is significant evidence showing that younger children, when first encountering the justice system, are more likely to reoffend and less likely to finish their education and find employment.

“It is often the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children who come to the attention of the justice system at such a young age. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of these children are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children,” Mr Christopoulos said. 

“Raising the age of criminal responsibility is a key measure in reducing the incarceration of young people who should only even be detained as a last resort.”

The Council of Attorneys-General (CAG) Working Group is currently reviewing the age of criminal responsibility and will make recommendations to CAG in that regard. 

The working group is chaired by the Department of Justice, Western Australia, and includes representation from NSW, along with each other state, territory and the Commonwealth government.

The closing date for submissions is Friday, 28 February 2020.

Lawyers press Council of Attorney-Generals to raise age of criminal responsibility
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