A landmark report calling for the minimum age of criminal responsibility to be lifted nationally has created a fissure between states, with Tasmania keen to push ahead with reform but NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman saying his government’s position is unchanged. The split came after the Council of Attorneys-General met and agreed to release the 140-page Age of Criminal Responsibility Working Group draft final report, a document that had been withheld by the previous federal government for two years. One of the primary recommendations was implementing raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years without exception. Currently, the age is legislated at 10 years, with the Northern Territory set to increase it to 12 from 2023. The ACT has committed to raising the age of criminal responsibility in the jurisdiction from 10 to 14 in 2027.

“There is strong support from legal, medical and human rights organisations to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years of age,” the report said. “Studies have shown that the younger the child is when first having contact with the justice system, the more likely they are to go on to reoffend. “This may suggest that criminalising the behaviour of young children may result in them becoming entrenched in the justice system.” NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman says the government’s position on the minimum age of criminal responsibility is unchanged despite the report. NSW, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania all have the age of criminal responsibility set at 10 years. But Tasmanian Attorney-General Elise Archer said a move to a nationally consistent age was “highly desirable”, saying her government was already committing to raising the minimum age of detention from 10 to 14 years.

Mr Speakman, however, was unmoved, saying the report remained in draft form and his state’s position on the criminal age of responsibility had not changed despite the findings. “The position of NSW has not changed,” Mr Speakman said. “NSW continues to support work in this area under the auspices of the Standing Council of Attorneys-General, noting that any reform in this area would need to be in the best interests of the community, with the safety of the community a key consideration.” Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said she also supported taking a national approach, noting all states and the commonwealth had agreed to develop a proposal to raise the age to 12 years. “Queensland supports taking a national approach to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility,” she said. “Youth crime is a complex issue, and raising the age without the necessary framework for responding to children who exhibit harmful behaviour is irresponsible.”

Northern Territory Attorney-General Chansey Paech pointed to his government’s recent decision to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 but said the Labor government was committed to reviewing the legislation in two years. A spokesman for the South Australian Attorney-General’s Department said the government was still “considering its position in relation to the matter”, adding if the age were to be lifted, there would “need to be sufficient safeguards in place to ensure the community is protected”. A Victorian parliamentary inquiry called for raising the state’s age of criminal responsibility to 14 years in conjunction with expanding community-based support services necessary to address underlying factors contributing to children’s criminal behaviour. The push to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility nationally comes after a new report revealed 86% of 10- and 11-year-old children charged with a crime in Queensland are Indigenous.

Source:  Compiled by APN from media reports

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