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Report calls for age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14

Attorneys-General release secret report calling for age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14 without exception

After more than a two-year delay, all Australia’s Attorney-Generals have finally released a long-awaited report from its Working Group tasked with advising on the age of criminal responsibility.

The report, from the Age of Criminal Responsibility Working Group, makes clear that without exception, the minimum age of criminal responsibility across Australia should be raised to 14 years from the current 10 years of age.

The report outlined the legal and policy reforms needed and called for better and stronger programs to prevent offending, to intervene early and to divert children away from the criminal justice system.

Cheryl Axleby, Co-Chair of Change the Record, said: ‘The release of this report is long overdue. It tells Attorneys-General what we have always known – no child should be handcuffed, dragged before courts or locked in police and prison cells.’ 

The release of the report comes at the same time as the SA Commissioner for Children and Young People’s most recent series of Report Cards on SA’s performance. Her report on Child Justice shows that SA is failing to meet our commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and reinforces key messages detailed in the Attorneys-General Working Group’s report.

 The Commissioner’s report shows that SA is in direct contravention of the Convention, with a high number of children and young people being detained in youth justice facilities, and disproportionately involving Aboriginal children.

The UNCRC states that, if children are detained, they must only be held for the shortest possible time, separately from adults, and only as a last resort. However, in 2021, children under 18 years of age were detained at least 2,030 times in South Australian adult police watch houses. Of these admissions, 890 involved Aboriginal children.

The Commissioner’s report also found that children and young people in the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre are detained in their cells for extended periods of time and far fewer Aboriginal children and young people are diverted away from the child justice system than non-Aboriginal children and young people.

‘The crises of mass incarceration of our mob and Blak deaths in custody will not end as long as governments across this continent continue criminalising and hurting our kids,’ Ms Axleby said.

Ross Womersley, SACOSS CEO, said: ‘As we approach Christmas and reflect on families coming together, we face the stark reminder that many young South Australian children will be locked away from their families and friends. This is all the more reason to raise the age and to ensure that no children are criminalised and forced to suffer the trauma of being imprisoned’.

‘It’s long past time for governments to listen to us, to the experts and the evidence, and support our kids to be safe and strong in community where they belong.’ Ms Alexby said.

The South Australia Raise the Age Coalition notes that the Age of Criminal Responsibility Working Group included a representative from the South Australia Attorney-General's Department, and it calls on the State Government to act on the recommendations set out in the Working Group’s report, as well as the key findings outlined in the Child Justice report of the Commissioner for Children and Young People.

‘We welcome the release of the Attorneys-General Age of Criminal Responsibility Working Group’s report and call on the South Australian Governement and all states and territories to implement its recommendations by raising the age to at least 14 years without exception, and putting in place the necessary support and diversionary programs’.

Published Date: 
Wednesday, 14 December 2022