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Open letter seeks inclusion of 17-year-olds in youth justice system

12 September 2016

An Open Letter to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers from 33 organisations has called for the inclusion of 17-year-olds in the youth justice system.

The letter says Queensland has become the last Australian state to extend the youth justice system to include 17-year-olds, and it's time for New Zealand to do the same.

"It you do not include 17-year-olds in the youth justice system you are failing to take action to break the crime cycle for these children. Children already associated with police and justice systems need very specific attention to maximise the chance of them thriving," it says.

The organisations say they represent people working directly in the care and protection, justice and research areas.

The letter says New Zealand will this week be judged on the international stage in Geneva when the Government responds to questions from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

"New Zealand is still in breach of our international obligations to our children by treating 17-year-olds as adults," it says.

New Zealand Law Society welcomes inclusion of 17-year-olds

On 7 April 2016 Social Development Minister Anne Tolley announced that Cabinet had agreed to investigate raising the youth justice age to include 17-year-olds. In a letter on 19 April to Ms Tolly and Justice Minister Amy Adams, the New Zealand Law Society said it welcomed the announcement of the investigation.

"The Government's announcement is a welcome step in addressing the [United Nations] Committee on the Rights of the Child's recommendation that New Zealand should consider setting the age for criminal majority at 18 years," it said.

The Law Society said including 17-year-olds takes into account developments in brain science and our understanding of how teenagers mature. 

"Significant benefits are likely to accrue to both a young person who offends at this critical age and society as a whole, if the young person is managed in the youth jurisdiction rather than the adult jurisdiction."

In its 2015 submission on the Government's draft Fifth Periodic Report to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Law Society noted that there were significant legislative gaps and inconsistencies in various New Zealand statutes relating to the age of a "child" or "young person".

"The Law Society considers that a consistent definition of "child" as a person under the age of 18 years should be adopted across all legislation," it said.

Progress on Cabinet decision

A recent written parliamentary question to Justice Minister Amy Adams from Labour MP Jacinda Ardern asked whether Cabinet had made a decision "regarding the age that applies to the Youth Court jurisdiction" at its June 2016 meetings.

"Cabinet decisions are confidential until they are announced," Ms Adams has responded.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019