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Review of the age of criminal responsibility (2020)

Children's Children's Rights

Submission to the Council of Attorneys-General Age of Criminal Responsibility Working Group

Introduction

The Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Council of Attorneys-General Age of Criminal Responsibility Working Group review.

The Commission is Australia’s National Human Rights Institution, with recognised independent status and roles in United Nations human rights fora. The Commission’s purpose is to provide independent and impartial services to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Commission undertakes a range of policy development and research tasks that aim to promote compliance with Australia's human rights obligations, while also investigating and conciliating complaints of unlawful discrimination and breaches of human rights.

The National Children’s Commissioner has made recommendations about the age of criminal responsibility to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child as part of its consideration of Australia’s periodic report on implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

The Commission considers the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Australia, of 10 years, to be too low. While offending by young children should not go unaddressed, criminalising children for their behaviour at such a young age is largely ineffective at preventing future offending behaviour while also running counter to human rights.

Reforming the youth justice system to apply children’s rights properly is particularly important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and those with disability who are overrepresented in our youth justice statistics. An approach focused on rehabilitation as opposed to retribution and punishment is required for the benefit of both children and society.

It is clear that raising the age of criminal responsibility alone will not solve the problem of youth offending. However, it is hoped that raising the age will open the door to a new approach to dealing with the younger cohort of offenders, one that focuses on their welfare and which aims to prevent future offending and reduce recidivism. While there are barriers to raising the age across Australia, these are not insurmountable and the potential benefits to society are substantial.