ACT Government told not to compromise on age of criminal responsibility

Dominic Giannini 9 November 2020 42
Shane Rattenbury

The ACT’s new Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury says he intends to raise the age of criminal responsibility in the Territory to 14. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Advocates have warned the ACT Government not to compromise on its commitment to raise the age of criminal responsibility in the Territory to 14.

The Labor-Greens parliamentary agreement committed to raising the age but did not specify what it should be raised to.

At the moment, the age of criminal responsibility in the ACT is 10. A 2011 human rights audit of the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre called for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 12.

The Council of Attorneys-General deferred a decision to 2021 as it works to determine alternative ways of dealing with young offenders. NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said in July this year that he was yet to be convinced of raising the age, putting the onus on those wishing to raise it to make the case.

But the ACT Law Society warned the government about compromising to reach unanimity.

“The decision is an opportunity for the ACT to lead the nation on this important issue,” ACT Law Society President Elizabeth Carroll said.

“We would not want the government to waiver on its commitment to this goal or to decide on a lower minimum age than 14, even if the Council of Attorneys-General were subsequently to agree nationally on a lower threshold.

“We recognise that there is much work to be done to ensure systems are in place to support the legislative change and the ACT Law Society is ready to support the government, together with other peak community bodies that have been working together to advocate for this change.”


READ MORE: “Indictment of our nation”: Why advocates want to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14


The new ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury, a strong proponent for raising the age to 14, dismissed any significance given to the absence of a specific age in the parliamentary agreement, saying it was to keep the document concise.

“Certainly, 14 is the recommended age when it comes to what the United Nations has set out and what the community groups have been advocating for,” he said.

“It is the recommended standard and so far I have heard no good arguments as to why it should not go to 14. My intent is to go to 14.”

The ACT Greens moved a motion in August that committed the new ACT Government to undertake policy work and consider legislation that would increase the age of criminal responsibility to 14.

Mr Rattenbury said the preference is to move on the issue as a nation but the ACT would move ahead of its counterparts if they did not act in a timely manner.

“If we cannot get movement at the national level, the ACT should move ahead; we cannot be dictated by the lowest common denominator dragging this process out.”

While Mr Rattenbury did not put an exact timeframe on the reforms, he said the government would move within the next 12 to 18 months.


READ ALSO: ACT Government commits to increasing age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14


The Canberra Liberals, who voted against the motion and called for more measured consideration, said they welcomed the discussion but would not take a stance on what age the law should be raised to.

“The Council of Attorneys-General has been looking at this matter for some time now and the final report is due next year. We should let this process complete rather than pre-empting these findings. It is important to get this right than to do it in a rushed way,” a Liberals spokesperson said.

“The Canberra Liberals will engage in any discussions on this issue in a productive and constructive manner.”

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said while he wanted there to be unanimity in the Assembly on the issue, he was prepared to push ahead without the Canberra Liberals.

Dr Emma Campbell

Dr Emma Campbell says the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 14 as an absolute minimum. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

CEO of the ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS), Dr Emma Campbell, also warned against going below the age of 14.

“The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment 24 states that the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be at least 14 and in fact commends states with higher ages of 15 and 16,” she said.

“We also note that scientific and health research indicates the age should be at least 14, and the campaign is supported by the Australian Medical Association.

“As stated by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, at age 12 and 13 maturity, and the capacity for abstract reasoning, is still evolving. It is simply wrong to criminalise children whose brain development is ongoing.”

The reforms also need to ensure there are strong referral and disciplinary systems in place through the courts and the police to stop the recidivism of juvenile offenders before the ACT could move forward, Mr Rattenbury said.

“We need to make sure we have the right suite of options available to the judiciary to direct a young person down other paths, whether that is a range of diversionary programs, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health support … these are the sort of social drivers that sit behind a lot of juvenile offending.”

Across the country, there are around 600 children under the age of 14 in our prisons every year, and 10 of them are just 10-years-old, according to the previous President of the Law Council of Australia, Arthur Moses.

Mr Moses previously called the current age of criminal responsibility an “indictment on our nation”.


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42 Responses to ACT Government told not to compromise on age of criminal responsibility
Chelle Belle Chelle Belle 9:37 pm 13 Nov 20

There needs to be more psychological and psychiatric support for children 10-15 in Canberra. This is a necessary and essential service to assist with later issues. It’s called early intervention. There is no such thing for children in primary school.

Chelle Belle Chelle Belle 9:34 pm 13 Nov 20

So not getting into this as it will upset me to no end.

Chelle Belle Chelle Belle 9:33 pm 13 Nov 20

Wow and my kids thought it was ok to verbally and physically abuse me for years. Also their grandparents.

What about teachers who are physically and verbally abused on a daily basis. ???

Joan James Joan James 10:47 am 13 Nov 20

Unfortunately many 10year olds know how to break all the rules!

Denise Bourke Denise Bourke 12:23 am 13 Nov 20

Regret being behind in my research. My instincts tell me that this may include impacts that hurt most the people most vulnerable..... as per the faulty misnamed laws undermining the victims in Vic n Qld.

Chris Bee Chris Bee 7:31 pm 11 Nov 20

To those saying things like this is "going to guarantee more criminal irresponsibility by young people!" and "watch the teens go more rampant knowing they'll get away with it."

Did you actually read the article? Let me copy/paste a bit from near the end for you.

"The reforms also need to ensure there are strong referral and disciplinary systems in place through the courts and the police to stop the recidivism of juvenile offenders before the ACT could move forward, Mr Rattenbury said. We need to make sure we have the right suite of options available to the judiciary to direct a young person down other paths, whether that is a range of diversionary programs, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health support … these are the sort of social drivers that sit behind a lot of juvenile offending."

    SC Cores SC Cores 9:12 pm 11 Nov 20

    Chris Bee blah blah blah... that’s what that said

    Chris Bee Chris Bee 10:55 pm 11 Nov 20

    SC Cores OK boomer

    Denise Bourke Denise Bourke 12:27 am 13 Nov 20

    The marvelous Restorative Justice models were undermined by shortcuts of practitioners. The best models can be undone without stringent pillars of action in place.

Eddie Majcic Eddie Majcic 4:41 pm 11 Nov 20

Watermelons don't understand what consequences and responsibility are!

Ol L Ol L 3:47 pm 11 Nov 20

Haha vote for them then don’t complain

Samuel Nicholls Samuel Nicholls 1:24 pm 11 Nov 20

Many Kids between 10 to 14 have no concept of empathy and are most dangerous at this age. They have nil care factor.

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 9:58 pm 11 Nov 20

    Samuel so perhaps a system that takes into consideration their cognitive development is not a bad thing.

Leos Nikias Leos Nikias 9:34 am 11 Nov 20

Canberra, you voted them in. 🤷‍♂️

Lee McDowall Lee McDowall 7:20 pm 10 Nov 20

This is not ok, 8 year olds know whats right or wrong, start trialing them for the crime they commit and convicting them, over the soft approach, my daughter (now aged 31) is still stuffering the physical bullying by a so called 8 year old not knowing he was harming her, at that stage cause it happened on school grounds the police couldn't do a thing. Now my Grandson's are now being targeted but because of this type of so called leadership, nothing can be done. The girl is let off scot free😡😠😠😠

Anne O'Hara Anne O'Hara 5:50 pm 10 Nov 20

Sorry but a 10 year old (especially these days) knows exactly what they are doing. Greens being Greens - again 😖

    Anne O'Hara Anne O'Hara 7:08 pm 12 Nov 20

    Jo Hann I understand but a 10 year old knows right from wrong.

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 7:13 pm 12 Nov 20

    Anne but not to the extent that they should have mandatory sentencing for their crimes. Australia is one of the worst in terms of our age of criminal responsibility. There are far better ways to deal with juvenile crime than this, especially when we have situations as in the NT where all children in prison there are Aboriginal. We need to protect children instead of turning them into lifelong criminals.

    Anne O'Hara Anne O'Hara 7:29 pm 12 Nov 20

    Jo Hann people/children need to be responsible for their actions. I maintain, if you commit an adult crime you should be sentenced appropriately. I'm so sick of people and children "getting off" for dismissed responsibility. Anyone can say they did know what they were doing, I'm sorry but savvy 10 year olds who commit serious crimes know exactly what they are doing.

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 7:48 pm 12 Nov 20

    Anne define "adult crime".

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 7:50 pm 12 Nov 20

    Anne so, regardless of the numerous studies that show the prison does irreversible harm to children, and despite the fact that it does not act as a significant deterrent, you think it's worth it.

    Anne O'Hara Anne O'Hara 9:05 pm 12 Nov 20

    Jo Hann unfortunately, children who commit a serious crime are often in a cycle of repeating - especially if given a slap on the wrist.

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 9:07 pm 12 Nov 20

    Anne define a "serious crime". What specific examples can you cite for said "slap on the wrist" for serious crime occurring? The cycle is borne from a justice system that treats children as criminals, NOT from an approach that is too soft.

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 9:11 pm 12 Nov 20

    The group of children with the highest incarceration rate also has the highest suicide rate in this country. Surely that is sufficient evidence that we should address the causes instead of pretending that this inhumane policy is a good deterrent?

chewy14 chewy14 4:46 pm 10 Nov 20

I would only support these changes if the government actively provides support services and controls to stop 13 year olds running amok under the new laws knowing they can’t be prosecuted.

The rest of society also needs protection from being the victims of crime. How is the government going to address the increased risk they would deliberately be creating?

Tracy Gorman Tracy Gorman 3:22 pm 10 Nov 20

Go into any shopping centre lately and see the kids aged from about ten upwards causing havoc. Talk to the shop managers and staff who are fed up with these kids running riot through their stores, stealing and abusing staff and customers.

At 12 years old I knew right from wrong. My kids knew the same. We even knew it at 10. Change it to 14, and see this behaviour get even worse, and more kids getting away with crap because they know they can’t be pulled up on it.

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 9:56 pm 11 Nov 20

    Tracy so you're saying that the system as it is, with the low age of criminal responsibility isn't working? Exactly. That's why we need a fresh approach: one that takes into account the developmental stages of the brain and the needs of the young offenders.

    Tracy Gorman Tracy Gorman 9:58 pm 11 Nov 20

    Jo Hann no, what I’m saying is most kids know right from wrong at 10 and 12 years of age. You raise it higher, they know they can get away with murder until they’re 14. Just my opinion, not looking for a debate.

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 10:02 pm 11 Nov 20

    Tracy they're not saying that there should be no consequences for their actions, just that there should be other pathways than the ones available in a system where they are considered to be criminals.

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 10:03 pm 11 Nov 20

    Tracy and if you do not want people to respond to your opinion, perhaps a journal would be a better place for you to air it (instead of a public post on social media) 🤷‍♂️

    Tracy Gorman Tracy Gorman 10:05 pm 11 Nov 20

    Jo Hann I never said people can’t respond, I said I’m not interested in debating my opinion. Notice I haven’t commented on every second comment.. unlike some? Have a nice night.

Jorge Gatica Jorge Gatica 3:20 pm 10 Nov 20

What a clown!!

Kay Jones Kay Jones 2:10 pm 10 Nov 20

How ridiculous

Acton Acton 1:56 pm 10 Nov 20

If the ACT Greens/Labor Government was honest it would admit that the real reason behind their push to raise the age of criminal responsibility is to reduce the number of incarcerated indigenous youth. But such uncharacteristic honesty will not be forthcoming because it raises difficult questions like why do so many indigenous youth and adults continue, despite all efforts over decades, to be overly represented in prison statistics. If the aim is simply to reduce the number of indigenous prisoners then just raise the age of criminal responsibility to 99.

Robert Mair Robert Mair 1:17 pm 10 Nov 20

10 to 14 is just going to guarantee more criminal irresponsibility by young people! Why not stick to changing to the recommended age of 12?

Bek Clark Bek Clark 12:52 pm 10 Nov 20

We go it alone on many things; that’s what being the most progressive jurisdiction means.

Rowan Hurrell Rowan Hurrell 12:39 pm 10 Nov 20

Watch the teens go more rampant knowing they'll get away with it

    Greg Axell Greg Axell 6:50 pm 10 Nov 20

    Rowan Hurrell it doesn't mean children 'get away with it' it means that they get diverted away from the criminal justice system designed for adults and gets them locked in to a life of recurrent criminality.

    Claire Arcorg Claire Arcorg 6:55 pm 10 Nov 20

    Rowan Hurrell how does putting a 10 year old into a system designed for 20+ year olds help guide them to age appropriate behaviour? Seriously they are 10! They need to be treated like the children they are.

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