Monday 15 November 2021
The Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (ALS) is bitterly disappointed by a move by Australia’s attorneys-general to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 instead of 14.
A formal announcement from state attorneys-general is expected today or tomorrow after an agreement to ‘support developing a proposal’ was made on Friday. The ALS rejects this empty commitment and urges NSW parliamentarians to vote for a bill to raise the age of responsibility to at least 14.
“This is a fig-leaf announcement designed to take pressure off politicians and give the appearance of action, without the substance. They know most Australians support raising the age to 14, as do Aboriginal organisations and the experts across the medical, legal, human rights and community service sectors. By putting politics over evidence, the attorneys-general are dodging their accountabilities to children and their constituents,” said Nadine Miles, Acting CEO of the ALS.
A wide range of experts including Aboriginal-led justice coalition Change the Record, the Law Council and the Australian Medical Association strongly support raising the age to at least 14.
Polling released by Amnesty International earlier this year showed that two-thirds of Australians believe the age of criminal responsibility is already 14. Yet across Australia, children as young as 10 can be arrested and detained by police and courts.
According to the latest quarterly data from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, 43% of children in NSW juvenile detention are Aboriginalⁱ.
“Aboriginal communities and organisations have been crystal clear that we expect the age of responsibility to be raised to 14 at the very least.
"The traumatic and life-altering effects of juvenile detention on Aboriginal children are vastly disproportionate. The NSW Government and Attorney-General have promised to close the gap in partnership with Aboriginal communities, and they owe it to these communities to listen and act,” Ms Miles said.
If the NSW Government only raises the age to 12 years old, 99 out of 105 children under 14 who were behind bars last year would remain locked awayⁱⁱ.
“At 12, many children are still in primary school. These young children are still developing cognitively, physically and emotionally. We will not accept this cynical attempt to continue locking up kids who are too young to be criminally responsible for their actions, and who deserve care and support,” Ms Miles said.
The ALS congratulated the ACT Government on its nation-leading efforts to raise the age to 14. Consultations are taking place and a bill is expected to be introduced to ACT Parliament in 2022.
Ms Miles urged NSW parliamentarians to support a bill introduced last week to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14.
“If this bill is passed, Aboriginal children will have better access to proven supports that help them learn from their mistakes. The evidence clearly demonstrates that keeping children out of detention means they are less likely to incur trauma, they are less likely to disengage from school, and less likely to face homelessness and incarceration later in life,” she said.
Media contact: Alyssa Robinson - 0427 346 017 - [email protected]
ⁱ Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, NSW Custody Statistics: Quarterly update September 2021, https://www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au/Pages/bocsar_publication/Pub_Summary/custody/NSW-Custody-Statistics-Quarterly-update-Sept2021.aspx
ⁱⁱ Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Youth justice in Australia 2019-20, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/youth-justice/youth-justice-in-australia-2019-20/data