Current laws around Australia allowing authorities to jail children as young as 10 are a “national tragedy” according to the Law Council of Australia (LCA) and Australian Medical Association (AMA) who have come together this week to release a joint statement calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be increased to 14 years of age.
The peak legal and medical organisations say they believe the arrest, detention, or imprisonment of a child should be used only as a measure of last resort, and should only occur for the shortest appropriate period of time.
Currently, the minimum age of criminal responsibility in all Australian jurisdictions is 10 years.
Evidence shows that children who are forced into contact with the criminal justice system at a young age are less likely to finish school or find a job, and are more likely to die an early death.
The laws as they currently stand also overwhelmingly affect children from Indigenous backgrounds as well as from other minority communities which find themselves the subject of over-policing due to racism and other socio-economic issues.
The LCA argues that taising the age to 14 would remove the need for courts to consider the complex “doli incapax” doctrine, under which anyone aged between 10-14 cannot be held responsible for a crime if they do not understand their behaviour is seriously wrong.
IF YOU VALUE OUR JOURNALISM PLEASE SUBSCRIBE & HELP KEEP US ALIVE! WE DO THIS ALL UNFUNDED & IN OUR FEW SPARE MOMENTS. WE NEED 2,000 SUBSCRIBERS TO BE SUSTAINABLE. HELP US REACH OUR GOAL.WE ONLY NEED A FEW HUNDRED MORE OF YOU!
Law Council President, Arthur Moses SC, said that raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility would bring Australia in line with international human rights standards, and help to ensure that Australia’s response to some of our most vulnerable children is health and welfare-based.
“It will maximise their chances of living productive and happy lives,” Mr Moses SC said.
Mr Moses SC also noted the disproportionate impact that the minimum age of criminal responsibility has on First Nations children.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are at least 23 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous young people,” Mr Moses SC said.
“Early contact with the criminal justice system increases the chances of reincarceration, leading to an almost-inevitable progression to the adult corrections system. It does not make communities safer. The Attorneys-General know this is the case. It is time that they showed some courage and leadership to implement these changes.
“There should be a bipartisan approach to this pressing issue by our politicians. Our children should not be used as political footballs in a law and order auction.
“Very serious offences are rarely perpetrated by children. Moreover, more than half of children in detention are unsentenced, being either detained by police prior to court or on remand awaiting trial or sentencing.”
AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, said that children who enter the criminal justice system at an early age are often the victims of abuse and neglect, and many have mental health conditions, cognitive impairments, and other significant challenges.
“Raising the age of criminal responsibility will prevent the unnecessary criminalisation of vulnerable children,” Dr Bartone said.
“The AMA views the incarceration of children as unacceptable.
“Most children in prison come from backgrounds that are disadvantaged. These children often experience violence, abuse, disability, homelessness, and drug or alcohol misuse.
“Criminalising the behaviour of young and vulnerable children creates a vicious cycle of disadvantage and forces children to become entrenched in the criminal justice system.
The AMA said it wants Commonwealth and state and territory governments to support developmentally and culturally appropriate health, education, and rehabilitative-based alternatives to the criminal justice system.
The joint statement can be read in full here.