7 November 2021

Strong community support for raising the age of criminal responsibility, although police say 14 is too high

| Lottie Twyford
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Shane Rattenbury

ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury has committed to raising the age of criminal responsibility in the Territory to 14. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Public consultation has shown there is strong support in the community for a proposal to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14, but ACT Policing says this age is too high.

The ACT Government received 52 community submissions to its discussion paper on the matter, with 90 per cent of these supportive of raising the age to 14, and most saying there should be no exemptions for serious crimes committed by people under the age of 14.

Currently, a person is held criminally responsible from the age of 10 in the ACT.

ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury is committed to the nation-leading proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 given it was a 2020 election promise from his party, the ACT Greens.

Mr Rattenbury previously acknowledged there is much work to do on the issue, particularly given children between 10 and 14 can cause harm to themselves and others in the community, but he has said he will not be a deterrent to the change.

“The ACT Government is committed to this important reform, including putting the integrated support and services in place that these children and young people need to put their lives back on track,” he said.

Bimberi Youth Justice Centre

The ACT Minister responsible for Youth Justice, Emma Davidson, says Bimberi Youth Justice Centre should be a last resort for young people. Photo: File.

The ability of police to arrest young people, and exemptions for serious crimes such as murder, are among several questions the ACT Government will need to work through, it has previously stated.

ACT Policing, in its submission, provided in-principle support to the matter but said the minimum age of criminal responsibility should only be raised to 12, not 14.

It also said its preference is for the minimum age to be nationally consistent.

Of particular concern, it said, is a cohort of 13-to-14-year-olds who are engaged in “serious and violent offending” including aggravated burglary, assault, property damage, theft, trespass and weapon offences.

It is ACT Policing’s belief this cohort may increasingly engage in such behaviours if there are no repercussions in the criminal justice system.

It said it would continue to focus on attempting to divert the 13-to-14-year-old cohort away from the system, even if the age of criminal responsibility is raised.

A recently released independent review into possible models for the ACT Government to adopt stressed the need for wraparound services, including after-hours services and crisis services.

ACT Minister for Families and Community Services Rachel Stephen-Smith said while the public consultation on raising the age had shown it is the right thing to do, she said the implications would need to be carefully considered.

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“We know that children and young people who come into contact with the youth justice system often have complex lives,” she said.

“While young people need to be accountable for the impact of their actions on others, it is better for everyone if they are supported to address their challenges and diverted from later engagement in the justice system.”

The ACT Minister responsible for Youth Justice, Emma Davidson, said raising the age of criminal responsibility is not just about legislative change, but also ensuring more people receive support for their needs and can seek support when they require it.

She previously said she wants Bimberi Youth Justice Centre to be the last resort for young offenders.

If the ACT is to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14, it would bring the Territory in line with current United Nations standards and would constitute a national first in Australia.

Mr Rattenbury said he hopes the ACT’s progress on the issue could demonstrate to other jurisdictions in the country that there is a practical way forward to raising the age.

Raising the age of criminal responsibility was made a priority in the 2020 ACT Labor-Greens governing agreement and the bill is expected to be introduced into the Assembly in 2022.

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I don’t really understand the reasoning given by police. Kids don’t engage in crime, or not, because of the presence or absence of criminal penalty provisions. The prefrontal cortex develops during adolescence and is finished by ~ 25 – 27 in an average person and may be delayed by neurological conditions like ADHD. If criminal penalties are neither an effective deterrent nor an effective rehabilitation option then are we just doing this for revenge?

Despite the fact that I disagree with your assertion that criminal penalties having no impact on younger people because of development issues, how about having them to protect the community?

You know, the actual victims of these criminals? Or don’t they matter?

It’s perfectly reasonable to look at significantly improving support services to prevent and divert these young criminals from a life of crime but we can’t just ignore the fact that their actions have real and often serious effects on society and their victims.

You can’t just make these sorts of changes overnight as the support services and new policy direction needs to be embedded first. There should be a 5 year implementation of the new support services and policies before making the legislative changes around the criminality of these children.

The children who commit crimes aren’t instantly going to stop because you say you’ll set up new services, it’s going to take years. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

And I have no idea how they think there is widescale community support because a majority of 52 submissions were in support.

You only have to look at who the submissions were from to see that a large portion of them are not objective on this issue nor do they represent the majority of the community.

Tom Worthington4:49 pm 08 Nov 21

Keeping children out of jail is a good idea, but will require alternative support programs. That will save public money in the long term, but require an upfront investment.

Add it as a question at the next ACT election.

That gives the government a couple of years to start setting up the programs for diverting the under 14 trouble makers.

If there is indeed strong community support then it should clearly show in the results. So if 3/4 or 2/3 of the votes are in favour of the change, then do it.

That is presuming the ACT government want to actually hear what the people have to say.

Cath Roo Grassick12:41 pm 08 Nov 21

To effect behaviour change from offending is complex and requires integrated and strong support networks and programs to exist for the targeted age group (and their families)…and the victims who will still be impacted while the offending behaviour exists. Currently they do not exist.

While there are admirable people and groups working in the community, on most occassions these groups and programs are not coordinated appropriately between each other including with the education infrastructure to ensure the greatest impact for behaviour change. Some of this relates to appropriate staffing/funding for the department/areas responsible for coordinating these programs, or groups are focussed on delivery of their specific program with specific funding tied singularly to that or there is simply a lack of coordination completely.

Given the historical experience of the slow speed of flow on funding and adequate filling of positions by experienced staff, new policy should not be implemented until these frameworks are established properly and tested. Too many times we see new policy implemented without the appropriate support structure appropriately bedded down. To do so is to set up new policy which will fail despite best intentions and outcomes wanted for offending youth. While a timely approach is positive, it should also not be tied to an election cycle and instead form the basis of agreed strong social policy that the community agrees on.

While there is good intention and desire to redirect offending youth, the other half of the equation are the individuals and families that are impacted by these crimes particularly noting current crime trends as advised by ACT Policing. Any new policy must credibly balance both.

Ultimately the reported percentage of (high) public support (or not) here is in reality limited to those that made submissions.

Just because the UN says so doesn’t mean the ACT should follow. If the police say there is a cohort of 13-14 year olds who are engaged in serious and violent offending, the political elite should stop and listen, and ask if their position is perhaps wrong. The government should improve the integrated support services, without tying the hands of the police.

The existing 13-14 year old criminal cohort won’t suddenly stop if the age is raised to 14, and they’ll just see this as a green light. The RiotACT poll from January 2020 had a result of 58% click “No, leave it at 10 and let the courts decide if perpetrators are adult enough”. People don’t appear to strongly support this, even after the elite told us we should.

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