Queensland Law Society will strongly advocate in support of amendments to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years during its scheduled public parliamentary committee hearing appearance on Monday (14 Feb).
QLS is one of 20 stakeholders scheduled to make oral submissions to the Community and Support Services Committee (Committee) on proposed changes to the ‘Criminal Law (Raising the Age of Responsibility) Amendment Bill 2021’ (Bill).
The Society will be represented at the hearing by QLS President Kara Thomson, Children’s Law Committee Chair Damian Bartholomew and First Nations Legal Policy Committee Co-Chair Lyndell O’Connor in support of raising the legal age of responsibility.
In its written submission to the Committee on 31 November (2021), the Society said the Bill aligned with QLS’s longstanding position that the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be raised to at least 14 years.
QLS 2021 President Elizabeth Shearer, in that submission, said: “Raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 and treatment of the underlying causes of crime will provide greater protection for the community, in that it will result in fewer recidivist young offenders, whilst also preventing the entrenchment of children and young people in the youth justice and adult criminal justice systems.”
Currently, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 10 across all Australian jurisdictions.
Ms Shearer said QLS and its members understood community concerns regarding how children who commit serious or violent offences would be dealt with by the youth justice system, if the Bill amendments were enacted.
“Whilst QLS recognises this as a genuine concern, the evidence demonstrates that it is rare for children aged 10 to 14 to commit serious or violent offences,’’ she said.
“The data indicates that young offenders tend to be underrepresented when it comes to serious offences.
“In countries where the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 14 years or higher, research indicates there are no negative consequences in terms of crime rates.
“By contrast, low minimum ages for criminal responsibility can contribute to early criminal pathways for young people.
“Early contact with the criminal justice system is one of the key predictors of youth and adult offending (with) children who come into contact with the criminal justice system (being) seven times more likely to become adult offenders.
“A low age of criminal responsibility can therefore entrench criminality, heighten reoffending rates and create cycles of disadvantage.
“Raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 and treatment of the underlying causes of crime will provide greater protection for the community, in that it will result in fewer recidivist young offenders, whilst also preventing the entrenchment of 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 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.
Other groups scheduled to appear at Monday’s committee hearing are Youth Advocacy Centre, Queensland Human Rights Commission, Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak, Cooee Indigenous Family and Community Education Centre, Queensland Police Service and Youth Off The Streets.
QLS is scheduled to make oral submissions to the Committee at 4pm on Monday.
Read the QLS submission.