No consensus on age of criminal responsibility

3 minute read

The RACP has called for states and territories to follow the NT and ACT to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians is calling on states and territories to increase the age of criminal responsibility after a “disappointing” lack of agreement that will perpetuate health inequities.

The Standing Council of Attorneys-General met this week to discuss raising the minimum age to at least 14, after the commonwealth, state and territory attorneys-general agreed to provide a position for their jurisdiction.

“It is disappointing that the nation’s first law officers could not agree to put the wellbeing of very young children first,” said paediatrician and RACP president Dr Jacqueline Small.

“The outcome of [the] meeting will result in a continued piecemeal, state-by-state situation, at best.

“Without a national consensus to raise the age to 14, we will continue to see health inequities, especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.”

The AMA has also long advocated for national consistency, calling attention to the disproportional incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

In a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission youth justice reforms investigation earlier this year, it called on Australia’s Attorney-General to lead the charge.

“This is an opportunity for the Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, to show leadership by encouraging state and territory attorneys-general to raise the age to 14,” AMA president Professor Steve Robson said.

“The medical evidence is clear: jailing harms children mentally and impairs their physical development and the younger the child is at first contact with the legal system, the higher the rate of recidivism.

“We cannot accept a stepped approach of raising the age to 12 — let’s remember that children this age are still in primary school — 14 is the absolute minimum age that we should set criminal responsibility.

“Countries comparable to Australia don’t lock their children up. We really should be ashamed to know that right now there will be around 4500 children as young as 10 under youth justice supervision in Australia.”

The RACP is now calling on states and territories to take action.

“We praise the NT and the ACT, which have raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12, and we note the ACT’s commitment to raise the age to 14.

“We also welcome Victoria’s recent commitment to do the same.

“We urge other jurisdictions to show leadership and raise the age, even without a nationally agreed approach.”

The RACP has offered its expert advice to any jurisdiction looking to “prioritise child health and wellbeing”.

“There are far better alternatives than prison walls for young Australians. It is time for the states and territories to stop locking these children up, because ‘out of sight out of mind’ is not how we should be approaching youth justice policies,” added the AMA.

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