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Raising the age of criminal responsibility – not now, but when?

The attention of PeakCare Members and Supporters is drawn to the Queensland Parliament’s Community Support and Services Committee report on the Criminal Law (Raising the Age of Responsibility) Amendment Bill 2021 and the Committee’s recommendations to Parliament.

At the core of this Private Member’s Bill was a proposal to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Queensland from 10 to 14 years old and transfer any children under 14 years of age out of custody. The Parliamentary Committee did not support the Bill being passed and concluded that “there is more work to be done before the minimum age of criminal responsibility is raised in Queensland”.

In reaching this conclusion, the Committee made several other recommendations as listed below:

Recommendation 1 – the Committee recommended the Criminal Law (Raising the Age of Responsibility) Amendment Bill 2021 not be passed.

Recommendation 2 – the Committee recommended the Queensland Government evaluate the training currently provided to residential care workers to determine whether its residential care workers are given sufficient training in diversionary tactics and de-escalation techniques.

Recommendation 3 – the Committee recommended the Queensland Government continue to work with all State and Territory Attorneys-General to consider the increase of the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12, including any caveats, timing and discussion of implementation requirements. This recommendation reflects the work of Bob Atkinson AO, APM’s Youth Justice Report, in which one of his recommendations was that the Queensland Government should advocate for consideration of raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years as part of a national agenda for all states and territories, as a uniform approach.

Recommendation 4 – The Committee recommended the Queensland Government consider targeted training and accreditation processes and clear practice direction for stakeholders regarding procedural requirements for court proceedings.

Recommendation 5 – The Committee recommended any alternative proposal to the youth justice system considered by the Queensland Government should include adequate and effective diversion programs and services, including place-based and culturally appropriate practices, to support young people and address factors which lead to offending behaviour.

A copy of the Parliamentary Committee’s Report is available here.

A copy of PeakCare’s submission is available here.


PeakCare’s opinion

PeakCare continues to support recommendations made by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child that all Australian States and Territories set 14 as the minimum age at which a child can be regarded as criminally responsible, noting that the Committee has also encouraged member states to take note of recent scientific findings and consider a higher minimum age of 15 or 16 years. We reject entirely the notion that it is sufficient to raise the age to 12.

PeakCare is confident that the age of criminal responsibility will eventually be raised. We are also sure that future generations will look back at the laws of today that allow children as young as 10 to be held criminally responsible with the same bewilderment that shocking ways in which children have been dealt with in the past are now regarded. These past practices include, amongst others:

  • the indefinite incarceration of children (for the Queen’s pleasure) who were regarded as ‘likely to fall into a life of vice or crime’ without being charged, found guilty of or sentenced in relation to an actual offence, a practice allowed for legally under the Children Services Act 1965 until proclamation of Queensland’s Juvenile Justice Act in 1992
  • times prior to 1963 when children as young as 7 or 8 could be regarded as criminally responsible until State and Territory governments progressively commenced moving towards setting the age at 10
  • the legal branding of Aboriginal children as ‘neglected’ for no other reason than their race (unlike any other children), which justified their forced removal from the care of their families and placement in institutions, and
  • the incarceration of unwanted, neglected and destitute children in hulks moored on the Brisbane River until the turn of the century.

PeakCare is confident that our society will eventually insist upon the age of criminally responsibility being raised, just as it has insisted upon the removal of other draconian laws that have impacted children in the past. We are also sure that governments will eventually respond to this societal insistence in the same way as they have in the past.

The questions become how long will it take before this happens and what damage will be done in the meantime – damage to both the children who are swept up under these laws and the community at large when these children are placed firmly on a trajectory into adult criminal behaviour with the long-term consequences that this will have on public safety.

Given Queensland’s commitment to hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2032, our State is now preparing to showcase itself to the world. Let’s hope that it does not take that long before we can display to the world social policies that we can be proud of. The conclusions reached by the Community Support and Services Committee are out of step with youth justice laws across the globe. Are they social policy conclusions that we can be proud of? No, they are not.

If you have a view about the Community Support and Services Committee report on the Criminal Law (Raising the Age of Responsibility) Amendment Bill 2021 and the Committee’s recommendations, please enter your comments here, anonymously if you prefer.

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1 Comment

  1. Carol Ronken on March 24, 2022 at 11:43 am

    Incarcerating children and being ‘tough’ on juvenile crime is not the solution. We need to invest in preventing crime, addressing the causes. We are never going to impact juvenile offending by focussing on responding to it. There is so much research around why and how children/young people end up in the system, we need to resource and concentrate our efforts on primary prevention. Let’s support children, families and communities.

    The impact on our kids if we don’t start addressing causes is frightening. I fully echo the following from the above commentary: “The questions become how long will it take before this happens and what damage will be done in the meantime – damage to both the children who are swept up under these laws and the community at large when these children are placed firmly on a trajectory into adult criminal behaviour with the long-term consequences that this will have on public safety”

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Late last week, PeakCare released a summary of the media reports about responses to ‘Stop Youth Crime – Get Smarter Not Tougher’, an…

Read More

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