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The Age of Criminal Responsibility


There have been a number of articles recently that have addressed the issue of “the age of criminal responsibility,” whether that be in Australia or elsewhere in the world. According to Youthpolicy.org in more than half of countries around the world, the legal age of majority (when minors cease to be considered children, take legal responsibility for their actions and decisions, and where control is relinquished from legal guardians) is 18 years; while the global average age of criminal responsibility is 12.1 years.

Australian law also currently allows children as young as 10 to be charged with a criminal offence, falling below the average Minimum Age Criminal Responsibility (MACR) worldwide.

Identified in the SBS article “How Young is Too Young” dated 22 November 2017, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics report released on 8 February 2017:

“… youth offenders comprised 13% of the total offender population. In comparison, people aged 10–17 years represented 11% of the total Australian Estimated Resident Population (ERP) aged 10 years and over as at 31 December 2015.”

Theft is the most prevalent of all offences committed youth offenders, being 35% of the total, half of which are related to public transport fare evasion. The second most prevalent category of offending are acts which are intended to cause injuries (15%), followed by Illicit drug offences (11%).

Raising the Age of MACR

In Australia, approximately 600 children below the age of 14 are imprisoned every year. The majority of these children are either of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage.

Following the Royal Commission into the “Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory”, which was initiated in response to the mistreatment of youth offenders in Don Dale correctional facility, the Commission recommended raising criminal responsibility to 12 years . Further the Commission recommended children under 14 years should only be jailed for serious and violent crimes.

In a further article by the ABC from Sunday 26 November 2017, The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child “strongly recommends the age of criminal responsibility be raised” globally, which would suggest Australia has a long way to move forward in this area of judicial prudential thinking.

The Childrens Court of New South Wales produced an article in 2006 which explored the common law rebuttable presumption of Doli Incapax. This rebuttable presumption provides that children between the ages of 10 and 14 years, do not necessarily possess the capacity to form criminal intent. Dr Mick Creati, a paediatrician who specialises in adolescent health, who was asked to comment on the Royal Commission, expressed the opinion that children who are under the age of 14 years have minimal impulse control, and the incarceration of any child, removing them from positive influences, for what are developmentally normal actions, is very damaging to their adult identities.

My child has been arrested, what should I do?

If your child has been arrested or is facing criminal charges, please contact Armstrong Legal immediately on 1300 168 676 for an obligation free consultation with one of our Criminal Lawyers for advice and representation.

Image Credit – Allan Swart © 123RF.com

Written by Tyson Brown on April 2, 2018

Tyson has a down to earth, straightforward approach to life and the law, one which is well received by all who meet him. Tyson has the ability to relate to all clients on a personal level, having spent many years prior to his legal career in customer service and hospitality. View Tyson's profile


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