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

Lottie Twyford 7 November 2021 28
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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28 Responses to Strong community support for raising the age of criminal responsibility, although police say 14 is too high
Anne Athema Anne Athema 8:12 am 10 Nov 21

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?

    chewy14 chewy14 11:26 am 10 Nov 21

    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.

Denise Bourke Denise Bourke 10:50 pm 09 Nov 21

Don't miss the red flags of kids who commit crimes. They need significantly targeted resources for them and their family to educate and support alternative life directions. If 10yo need significant resources then don't invest in changing labels. Invest in smart interventions.

Nathan Lofthouse Nathan Lofthouse 1:20 pm 09 Nov 21

Criminally subjective.

12 year old shoplifting. Naughty kid

12 year old stealing cars or using a weapon to rob a store, definitely has more culpability.

chewy14 chewy14 8:09 am 09 Nov 21

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.

Mitch Savic Mitch Savic 7:54 am 09 Nov 21

How about raising parental responsibility? "Oh i just dont know what to do about him anymore" is a pathetic excuse for poor parenting.. teach people.. being a mother or father doesnt came naturally ro some people. And how about better mental health support? Maybe that would help.. just maybe.. pathetic government, honestly.

Dean Colwill Dean Colwill 11:30 pm 08 Nov 21

Strong community support. Half a dozen people turned up at public discussions probably.

    Chris Ellis Chris Ellis 6:41 am 09 Nov 21

    Dean Colwill yeah but the turned up. Where were you?

    Dean Colwill Dean Colwill 7:12 am 09 Nov 21

    The ultimate check on a government is the franchise and I’ll reserve my only real ability to make any change in government decision making until the next election thanks. In the meantime I’ll reserve my right to moan about this government as much as I like.

Kellie McCann Kellie McCann 9:54 pm 08 Nov 21

These kids rely on the coddling by people claiming theyre too young to understand so they get away with it time amd time again. My home town has youth crime exploding and theyve been know to use very young children to assist as they wont get reprimanded and even dare people to try and stop them. They know full well and if they didnt than their patents and the education system has failed. I have never met a 10yr old who didnt have an understanding of wrong from right.

    Ash Latimer Ash Latimer 2:47 pm 09 Nov 21

    Kellie McCann you even said it your self, often these kids are pressured into situations by their older peers. I take it you smacked your children too?

    Kellie McCann Kellie McCann 3:16 pm 09 Nov 21

    Ash Latimer dont have them. I was smacked as a child and have a clear understanding of right and wrong, i also knew i could trust my parents even though they did. Also i was talking about 10 and 12 year old using 3 year olds to climb through windows to unlock doors etc. Cant tell me they dont know what theyre doing. You wake up with them in your house half of them will assault you before you even get out your bedroom door.

Gerry Satrapa Gerry Satrapa 8:48 pm 08 Nov 21

Personally, if the police are saying 14YO is too old; I say support the police.

    Jayden Hackett Jayden Hackett 4:18 pm 09 Nov 21

    Gerry that would be a common sense thing to listen to the officers who are dealing with brat day in day out. But the thing is this government dosent really have much common sense

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 8:32 am 11 Nov 21

    Gerry - this is a decision for psychologists and science, not the police. Just because they pick up kids regularly at age 13 doing the wrong thing isn’t a good excuse for not listening to the science about how kids brains work at those ages.

    Gerry Satrapa Gerry Satrapa 8:53 am 11 Nov 21

    Leigh Brady the police certainly have a stake and a voice that should be heard 🤷🏼‍♂️

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 9:00 am 11 Nov 21

    Gerry the only ones with anything truly at stake are the children.

    And the police have been given their say in their submission. And this follow up article by the Canberra times.

Tom Worthington Tom Worthington 4:49 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.

Travissi Gilbert Travissi Gilbert 4:38 pm 08 Nov 21

I love that we think someone is old enough to be held responsible for the crimes they commit at 10, but not responsible enough to vote for the people who think they should be incarcerated at age 10 until they are aged 18.

    Adam Rolls Adam Rolls 6:35 pm 08 Nov 21

    Travissi Gilbert I doubt many 10 year olds know who they would even be voting for let alone the policies they offer.

    They should know right from wrong though. Especially when it comes to serious crimes.

    Mark Monterosso Mark Monterosso 8:55 pm 08 Nov 21

    Adam Rolls how many people over 18 know the policies they are voting for?

    Dan Rayner Dan Rayner 7:26 am 09 Nov 21

    Adam it’s not about right from wrong - that’s the easy bit.

    It’s about not making rash split-second decisions and thinking though consequences with a not-yet-fully brain (a brain which has been shown over and over again that is more likely to produce risky and impulsive behaviours than one of a fully developed adult).

    So perhaps kids should be held responsible for crimes they had time to fully think through before committing (like white collar fraud or organised crime) but not fully culpable for crimes that are driven by impulse (like stealing a car or property damage)?

    Adam Rolls Adam Rolls 9:40 am 09 Nov 21

    Dan Rayner I agree. And I imagine judges would take the fact of if it was a one off impulsive act or a planned act when sentencing. I believe most young offenders are habitual offenders doing series of crimes such as a numbers of thefts. They probably have longer criminal records by the time they are 18 then most people will in their entire lives.

    Dan Rayner Dan Rayner 9:47 am 09 Nov 21

    Adam good thing changes to the judicial system are based on evidence and not on what you personally believe, eh? 😜

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 8:31 am 11 Nov 21

    Adam - it’s not about whether they know right from wrong - it’s if they should be held criminally responsible for getting it wrong. If a kid that age doesn’t know right from wrong is it really their fault? Should they be held responsible for whomever raised them that way?

Spiral Spiral 1:30 pm 08 Nov 21

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 Grassick Cath Roo Grassick 12:41 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.

nobody nobody 10:45 am 08 Nov 21

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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