Jesuit Social Services welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Council of Attorneys-General Age of Criminal Responsibility Working Group review.

The current minimum age of legal responsibility in Australia at 10 years of age harms children, and in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. It is discriminatory, and out of step with human rights standards and medical science on child development. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for countries to have a minimum age of legal responsibility set at 14 or higher, and recommends that children under 16 should not be deprived of their liberty.

Jesuit Social Services supports the position endorsed by key groups across Australia – including National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Law Council of Australia, Australian Medical Association, Change the Record, Amnesty, HRLC and Royal Australasian College of Physicians – that the laws that dictate the age of legal responsibility in all States, Territories and the Commonwealth need to be reformed in line with the following principles:

  • The minimum age of legal responsibility must be raised to at least 14 years.
  • There must be no ‘carve outs’ to this legislation, even for serious offences.
  • Doli incapax fails to safeguard children, is applied inconsistently and results in discriminatory practices. Once the age of legal responsibility is raised to 14 years, doli incapax would cease to be relevant and therefore be redundant.
  • Prevention, early intervention, and diversionary responses linked to culturally-safe and trauma-responsive services including education, health and community services should be prioritised and expanded.
  • In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the planning, design and implementation of prevention, early intervention and diversionary responses should be community-led.

As outlined in Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility: There is a better way – we believe there are a number of reasons to make this change:

  • Science shows that a child’s brain is still developing (up until at least the age of 25, in fact).
  • Society has an interest in the healthy development of all children.
  • Many children in the criminal justice system are highly vulnerable.
  • There is a better way to respond.

Jesuit Social Services calls for the final report with recommendations to the Council of Attorneys-General to be made public in order to respect and promote the views, knowledge and expertise of stakeholders and individuals who contribute to this critical discussion.