Attorneys-general consider raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility

While children's advocates welcome the proposal, they said it does not go "far enough"

Attorneys-general consider raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility

State attorneys-general have expressed their support of raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12.

In a Meeting of Attorneys-General (MAG) held on 12 November, the NT expressed its commitment to the increase and said it would continue to work on reforms, including adequate and effective diversion programs and services. The ACT also committed to the raise, with reforms currently underway.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) pointed out that as per the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, “499 children under the age of 14 spent time in detention between June 2019 and June 2020 throughout Australia. Forty-three of those were aged under 12.”

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However, while a group of children’s commissioners, guardians and advocates expressed their approval that jurisdictions were considering an increase in the criminal responsibility age limit, the process was “not going far enough or fast enough,” the group said in a joint statement to the AHRC.

“The minimum age of criminal responsibility in all Australian states and territories should be 14 years. 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,” the AHRC explained.

The organisation also pointed out that it had been three years since attorneys-general commenced their review of the age limit – yet, there had been “no substantive change in any jurisdiction.”

“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,” the AHRC said. “These are clearly children who desperately need our care and protection, and we need to apply a more sophisticated approach to child wellbeing. This announcement highlights the need for a greater focus from government on the wellbeing of children generally.”

At the MAG, informal discussions on the proposal to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility included consideration of timing and implementation requirements. Commonwealth Attorney-General Michaelia Cash led the MAG, with all jurisdictions represented.


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