Time to raise the age of criminal responsibility

23 Jul 2020

Posted October 13, 2019

Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie is introducing a Private Members’ Bill to put pressure on the Government to follow a United Nations recommendation and raise the age of criminal responsibility in Australia from 10 to 14 years.

The Centre Alliance MP’s Crimes Legislation Amendment (Age of Criminal Responsibility) Bill 2019 will be introduced to the House of Representatives on Monday.

“Our current laws are not consistent with the medical and social science evidence we have about the mental capacity of children who commit offences and the detrimental effects early contact with the justice system have on our children,” Rebekha said today.

“We also know that our current laws have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous children with almost 70 per cent of the young people in our youth jails being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

“It’s been almost two years since the Northern Territory’s 2017 Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children recommended raising the age of criminal responsibility.

"Meanwhile children as young as 10 continue to be arrested and detained for relatively minor offences when we should be looking at diversionary justice processes instead.

“We need to acknowledge the evidence and we need to act so Centre Alliance is moving legislation for the Government to consider and take up.”

Rebekha’s Bill is consistent with the 2019 United Nations General Comments on Children’s Rights in the Child Justice System and the UN’s Concluding Comments on Australia’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child released 30 September 2019.

Most European countries have set a minimum age of criminal responsibility of between 14 and 16 years of age, while others such as China, Russia, Japan and Sierra Leone have a minimum age of criminal responsibility of 14.

By setting the age of criminal responsibility at 10, Australia is well below the international average of 14.

Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 has the support of peak medical and justice advocate groups including Change the Record, Amnesty International, the Law Council of Australia and Australian Medical Association.

“The Attorney General and the States and Territories are reviewing this issue and a report is due at the end of the year but this Government doesn’t need to wait for a recommendation when the UN and the peak bodies have been calling for change for some time,” Rebekha said.

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