New Zealand Law Society - Aust Law Council backs push for increase to minimum age of criminal responsibility

Aust Law Council backs push for increase to minimum age of criminal responsibility

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The Law Council of Australia says it supports the introduction of legislation to Federal Parliament, which seeks to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility for Commonwealth offences to 14 years.

Law Council President, Arthur Moses SC, says increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility, if followed by all Australian jurisdictions, would help improve justice outcomes for some of Australia’s most vulnerable children, especially First Nations young people.

The objective of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Age of Criminal Responsibility) Bill 2019, introduced by Centre Alliance MP Rebekah Sharkie, is consistent with Law Council policy and recognises Australia’s international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Across all Australian jurisdictions the minimum age of criminal responsibility is currently 10 – this is a national disgrace and a national tragedy,” says Mr Moses.

“How is it that a child can’t sign up to Facebook until the age of 13 but can be placed in detention at the age of 10? It makes no sense and has long-term impacts. There is clear evidence childhood detention increases the risk of adult imprisonment.

“This bill is a good first step to prompt a debate in parliament and consider broader reforms that need to take place to ensure community safety, including diversionary, preventative and welfare-based programmes.”

The bill’s introduction comes ahead of the release of a report by the Council of Attorneys-General, examining whether the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be increased across Australian jurisdictions.

“There is a significant evidence base relating to child brain development that supports a higher age as children are not sufficiently able to reflect before acting, or to comprehend the consequences of a criminal action,” says Mr Moses.

“Children belong in their communities, not in detention. Imprisonment should be a last resort when it comes to children, not a first step.”

The council also says raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 would also remove the need for courts to consider the confusing and complex doli incapax presumption, which assumes a child under 14 does not possess the knowledge required to form criminal intent.