Victoria Legal Aid supports raising the age of criminal responsibility

Victoria Legal Aid supports raising the age of criminal responsibility

Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Federation of Community Legal Centres, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and other organisations have today called on the Victorian Government to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years of age.

Victoria Legal Aid strongly supports this move.

We urge the government to take the important step of increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility and to consider evidence-based approaches for keeping young children out of the criminal justice system.

The current minimum age of criminal responsibility in Australia is 10. This is inconsistent with international standards and research around brain development.

Victoria Legal Aid’s Youth Crime Program Manager Amanda Carter says the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory is a timely opportunity for Victoria to reflect on the way we treat young people in the criminal justice system.

‘We are firmly of the view that welfare, health and education based interventions are more powerful and effective than the criminal justice system in addressing the causes of offending behaviour for young children,’ Amanda said.

‘Children need to be provided with supports and interventions that reduce, rather than increase, their likelihood of reoffending.’

There is evidence around brain development which tells us that young people’s brains are still developing.

‘Younger children have diminished decision making, understanding and behaviour control. This affects the extent to which they should be held criminally responsible for their actions,’ Amanda said.

‘We know that contact with the criminal justice system at a young age means that young people are more likely to reoffend for longer and more frequently, and go on to receive a custodial sentence.’

The Sentencing Advisory Council’s 2016 report, Reoffending by Children and Young People in Victoria, tells us that the likelihood of a child or young person progressing from the Children’s Court to the adult criminal jurisdiction was found to be associated with age at ‘entry’ into the criminal courts.

‘The younger the children were at their first sentence, the more likely they were to reoffend generally, reoffend violently, continue offending into the adult criminal jurisdiction and be sentenced to an adult sentence of imprisonment before their twenty-second birthday,’ Amanda said.

The Sentencing Advisory Council found that after accounting for the effect of other factors, each additional year in age at entry into the criminal courts was associated with an 18 per cent decline in the likelihood of reoffending.

Amanda said importantly, increasing the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years of age does not mean that children under 14 should not be accountable and responsible for their actions.

‘It means that they should be made accountable through measures other than the criminal justice system,’ Amanda said.

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