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Monday, 8 May 2023

Statement on raising the age of criminal responsibility

The ACT Law Society is pleased that the ACT will soon become the first Australian jurisdiction to raise the age of criminal responsibility, keeping children out of the prison system. However, we are concerned that the proposed changes do not go far enough to bring us into line with United Nations standards.

Chief Minister Barr announced today that the ACT Government will introduce a bill into the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday 9 May to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

“Legislative reform to raise the age is long over-due. We have been a long-standing advocate for reform to raise the minimum of age of criminal responsibility to 14, without exception,” said ACT Law Society President Farzana Choudhury.

“We know that putting children in prison causes life-long harm. It has extensive negative social impacts, especially by driving up recidivism rates. The damage hits our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities particularly hard, given the disproportionate representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait people in our local prison system. We commend the ACT Government for taking a leading role on this important issue, however we are concerned that exceptions have been included in the proposed legislation.”

The Society has consistently advocated for the minimum age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14 without exception. We believe that carving out exceptions undermines the purpose and rationale of raising the age.

“The medical evidence clearly shows that children do not have the cognitive capacity to be held criminally responsible. We should be supporting our children in their families, communities, and cultures, not forcing them into the criminal justice system that will harm them for life.”