At Lawson Legal, we stand firmly behind the idea that each individual should have protection under the law, not live in fear of the law. For this reason, we wish to join the Law Council of Australia and lend our voice in support of the initiative to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Australia to 14 years of age.
WHAT IS THE CURRENT AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY?
At this time, the age of responsibility is ten years of age. This statute is in force even though globally, the average age of criminal responsibility is 12.1 years old.
WHAT GROUPS ARE CONCERNED ABOUT THE PRESENT AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY?
In addition to an outcry from child development specialists, sociologists, and members of the legal system, the Royal Commission issued a recommendation to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Australia.
Additionally, there is proposed legislation is also in place, calling for raising the age of criminal responsibility throughout the Commonwealth. Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. The objective of this proposed change, introduced by Centre Alliance MP Rebekah Sharkie, addresses the problems associated with the current age as well as Australia’s responsibility to the international community, as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
International criticism came in the form of chastisement from the United Nations during conversations in Geneva. After the September 2019 statement from the UN, numerous human rights groups (including the Human Rights Law Centre and Amnesty International) also stepped up pressure to amend the statute and raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years of age.
WHAT DO LEADING AUSTRALIAN PROFESSIONALS SAY ABOUT THE AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY?
- Law Council of Australia President, Arthur Moses SC offered his support of amending the current law calling the existing statute a “national disgrace’ as well as a “national tragedy.” Mr Moses stresses the need for bipartisan support of legislation aimed at changing the age of criminal responsibility. He goes on to explain that such support will remove any political bias that could keep the Attorneys-General from doing what is necessary out of fear.
- The Royal Australian College of Physicians’ Dr Mick Creati is a vocal critic of the law that permits the remanding of children as young as ten to juvenile detention facilities. Dr Creati asserts that incarcerated children are set up to experience a long-lasting negative impact on their mental health. He notes that many of these children are from underprivileged backgrounds and jail-time compounds a bad situation. Dr Creati explains that a large number of incarcerated children come from families where abuse, neglect, and trauma are commonplace. He also mentions the fact that 90 per cent of juveniles jailed in Western Australia had at least one serious neurodevelopment deficit.
- Human Rights Law Centre legal director Ruth Barson cites bodies of paediatric neuroscience showing the brains of children under the age of 14 lack sufficient development to accept criminal responsibility. Ms Barson goes on to mention the fact that no one under the age of 13 can have their own Facebook account, but they are believed to be mature enough to take on criminal responsibility. She goes on to underscore how critical it is for Australian law to have a basis in what scientific research reveals.
WHAT ARE SOME POTENTIAL FUTURE PROBLEMS FOR CHILDREN WHO ENTER THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AT A VERY YOUNG AGE?
There are numerous detrimental long-term effects associated with incarcerating children.
- Early entry into the criminal justice system leads to an increased likelihood that the child will become a repeat offender. A study following juvenile offenders over an eight-year period of time found that 57 per cent would stand trial in an adult court. Of the 57 per cent who appeared in adult court, 90 per cent were Indigenous people.
- Childhood jail time leads to increased negative impacts on physical health later in life. Long periods of time spent incarcerated amplified the damaging effects on into adulthood. While those spending a month or less time in jail experienced few long-term health problems.
- Mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts are more likely to be found in those jailed during childhood.
- Incarcerated children experience long-lasting detrimental effects educationally. This is due to the sub-par delivery of teaching in a detention setting.
- Those incarcerated as children struggle with gainful employment throughout their lives. The stigma of serving jail time combined with a lack of training combine to put those jailed during childhood at a marked disadvantage when it comes to employment.
The children are the future of Australia. It is up to us, as the present generation of leaders, to build a framework that helps, not hinders their growth and development.