Commitment to raise age of criminal responsibility does not go far enough: NLA

Commitment to raise age of criminal responsibility does not go far enough: NLA

07 December 2021 By Naomi Neilson
raise age of criminal responsibility

A national legal body has welcomed the commitment by attorneys-general to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12, but has cautioned that this may not go far enough to reduce the number of children in custody or prevent reoffending.

Referencing data that suggests children who interact with the justice system at a young age could have poor decision-making abilities and reasoning and impulsivity issues, the National Legal Aid (NLA) body has requested that this recent attorneys-general commitment be raised again from 12 years to 14.

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Chair Louise Glanville said evidence from a health and community safety perspective suggests that it is “clear the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 14 years”, to prevent children from being exposed to mental illnesses, psychological distress and the risk of operating at a much younger functional age.

“The majority of children legal aid lawyers see in prison have experienced trauma and/or mental health issues. We should be orienting away from costly criminal justice responses for children under 14 and towards services that address children’s circumstances and help them grow and learn,” Ms Glanville said.

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NLA argued that raising the age from 10 to 12 will not significantly reduce the number of children in custody, given that recent data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found that 456 out of 499 children under 14 in prison between 2019 and 2020 were aged between 12 and 13 years old.

It went on to argue that the later children enter the justice system, the “less likely they are to reoffend”. Evidence indicates that the earlier children enter the criminal justice system, the more likely they are to become stuck in the system and repeat harmful behaviours, leading to reoffending much later in their adult lives.

Backed by a recent Queensland study that found the costs to courts and corrections for a 32-year-old who entered the system when he was just 14 reached $400,000, NLA said it also supports a recent review from the ACT that shows a much positive outlook for young offenders who are connected with professional services.

Australia could also benefit from an integrated service sector approach where outcomes are shared across education, early childhood, health and child protection to allow for a rehabilitative, child welfare approach that addresses a child’s needs.

“By raising the age to 14 across the country and diverting children from the justice system, we have an opportunity to help children develop positive behaviours and emotional responses to assist them to develop life skills,” Ms Glanville said.

Commitment to raise age of criminal responsibility does not go far enough: NLA
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