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A 12 year old boy has been charged in relation to the stabbing of a 10 year old but how criminally responsible can a child be?
While it seems like a cut and dry issue, the level of criminal responsibility that can be placed on a child varies. Matters involving children are far more complicated than that of an adult. In New South Wales there is a principal called Doli Incapax. Colloquially known as Doli.
Doli is effectively a sliding scale of criminal responsibility with a rebuttable presumption. The law states that a child under 10 cannot be criminally liable for an offence. The presumption for children under 10 is not rebuttable. The presumption of responsibility slowly increases as a child nears 14 and it is the onus of the Police or DPP to prove the child’s criminal liability.
Late last year the High Court confirmed this presumption and its specificity in RP v The Queen. The High Court made plain the distinction between the child’s action and their knowledge, both of which are needed to rebut the presumption that the child is not liable.
It must not only be proved that the actions that constituted an offence occured, but also that the child knew what they were doing was seriously and morally wrong, rather than merely naughty. The High Court was of the view that the presumption needed to be rebutted with specific evidence of a child’s knowledge and understanding.
At this stage it’s not apparent whether or not the police will be able to rebut the Doli presumption that they face in this matter, however we know it’ll be one to watch.
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