Age of criminal responsibility must not be lower than 14 years

15th Nov 2021

The age of criminal responsibility in Australia must be raised to at least 14 years as recommended by the United Nations, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

 “Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12, as proposed on Friday by the state attorneys-general, does not adequately deal with the issue. It continues to mean children in primary school can be locked up and removed from their families,” said Mr Graham Droppert SC, ALA National President.  

“There is significant evidence showing that, the younger children are when they first encounter the justice system, the more likely they are to reoffend and the less likely they are to finish their education and find employment.

 “The current low age of criminal responsibility in Australia is in breach of human rights standards and puts Australia out of step with much of the rest of the world. Changing the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 will continue to leave Australia below the average world-wide.  

“Most of the children aged between 10 and 13 years who are in detention are 12 or 13 years old.  The proposed change which would remove 10- and 11-year-olds only will have very little effect on the number of children in detention.  

“Proposals to modify the legal age of responsibility depending on the particular offence are also illogical and unhelpful. How can a 13-year-old have the capacity to be held criminally responsible for one type of offence, but not for another?

“It is often the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children who come to the attention of the justice system at such a young age.  Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of these children are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children.

“Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 is a key measure in reducing the incarceration of young people who should only ever be detained as a last resort.”

Tags: Criminal justice Youth Justice