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QLS President voices ‘strong support’ for raising MACR to 14 years

Queensland Law Society President Kara Thomson has voiced “strong support” for a Bill to raise the state’s minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 10 to 14 years of age.

Ms Thomson told Queensland’s parliamentary Community Support and Services Committee (Committee) yesterday that evidence-based research showed lifting the MACR would prevent the likelihood of young people becoming recidivist offenders.

Ms Thomson, who was joined by the QLS Children’s Law Committee Chair Damien Bartholomew and Human Rights and Public Law Committee member Keryn Ruska, was the last of 20 stakeholder groups to appear during today’s public hearings over proposed changes to the ‘Criminal Law (Raising the Age of Responsibility) Amendment Bill 2021’(Bill).

“To be very clear… the (Queensland) Law Society strongly supports the proposed amendment to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from its current position of 10 to 14 years of age,’’ Ms Thomson told the Committee.

Currently, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 10 across all Australian jurisdictions.

“Our support of raising the age has been well documented in our legal policy submissions, Call to Parties statements and advocacy through the Law Council of Australia,’’ she said.

“The Bill brings Queensland into line with a significant body of international human rights law. It is consistent with the benchmark identified in its review by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

“Whilst the Atkinson report in 2018 identified a benchmark of 12 years of age, since that time the United Nations has updated its position and we have, as you will know from the submissions provided to the Committee by various interested parties, data supporting the raising of the age of responsibility to 14 and support broadly across medical experts.

Ms Thomson said QLS recognised the importance for all Queenslanders to be, and feel, safe in their community and the Bill would ultimately provide greater community protection.

“As part of raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14, it is our view that the triage and treatment of the underlying causes of crime, including social and family dysfunction, disadvantage and education, will in fact provide greater protection for the community, because therapeutic and diversion programs will ultimately reduce youth crime,’’ she said.

“Evidence suggests the earlier the contact with the youth justice system, the more likely young people will become recidivist offenders who are then entrenched in the criminal justice system.

“The raising of the minimum age will prevent this, resulting in fewer recidivist young offenders and thus prevent the entrenchment of our children and young people in the youth justice and adult criminal justice systems.”

On 15 September 2021, MP Michael Berkman introduced the Bill into the Queensland Parliament. 

The objective of the Bill is to ensure children under 14 years of age are not incarcerated or otherwise punished under the criminal legal system, consistent with the current medical understanding of child development and contemporary human rights standards.

The Bill aims to achieve this by raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Queensland from 10 to 14 years old and transferring any children under 14 years old out of custody. The Bill also aims to negate the consequences of prior offending by children while under the age of 14, including, for example, the creation of records in relation to such offending.

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