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Parliamentary committee rejects Bill to raise age of criminal responsibility

A parliamentary committee has rejected a move to raise Queensland’s minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 10 to 14, recommending instead a continued national approach to increase the age to 12.

Late yesterday the Community and Support Services Committee tabled its report and recommendations in Parliament on proposed changes to the Criminal Law (Raising the Age of Responsibility) Amendment Bill 2021.

The committee recommended that Parliament not pass laws proposed by state Greens MP for Maiwar Michael Berkman in a private members’ Bill to raise the MACR from 10 to 14.

More than 70 written submissions were made on proposed changes to the Bill – including from the Human Rights and Family and Child Commissions, youth and community advocacy groups Queensland Law Society and Bar Association – with the vast majority advocating the MACR be raised to “at least 14 years of age”.

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

Amid the five recommendations in the report supported by three Labor and two LNP committee members is that Queensland work with all state and territory Attorneys-General to consider an increase in the MACR from 10 to 12.

The only dissenting voice in the report was Mr Berkman – who welcomed some recommendations regarding training, residential care and court setting – but slammed the committee’s failure to recommend a rise in the MACR.

“Despite the overwhelming evidence, the committee has not recommended raising the age of criminal responsibility,” Mr Berkman said. “Instead, the recommendations inch Queensland ever so slightly closer to a policy position of raising the age to 12, a position that is inconsistent with our international human rights obligations, inconsistent with the medical and criminological evidence, and a position that will improve the lives of less than 10% of the 10-13 year old children in custody or under supervision in Queensland.

“If the committee, and particularly the Government Members, treated this inquiry process as anything more than a political fig leaf, to obscure or justify the ineffective, politicised, and harmful pre-existing policy position of the Queensland Government, this report would unequivocally support raising the age to at least 14.”

In support of the report, committee’s chair and Labor MP for Mansfield Corrine McMillan noted the large number of submissions to support the raising the MACR.

“The issues relating the Bill’s objectives, such as community safety, criminal responsibility, childhood disadvantage and the overrepresentation of First Nations’ children and adults in the criminal system are of great concern to the committee and to the wider community, as reflected in the large number of substantive submissions received by the committee to this Bill,” Ms McMillan said.

Recommendations

However, the committee made five recommendations, including:

  • the Criminal Law (Raising the Age of Responsibility) Amendment Bill 2021 not be passed by Parliament
  • the Queensland Government evaluate the training currently provided to residential care workers to determine whether its residential care workers are given sufficient training in diversionary tactics and de-escalation techniques
  • the Queensland Government continue to work with all other state and territory Attorneys-General to consider the increase of the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12, in accordance with recommendations made in the 2018 Youth Justice Report by former Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson AO APM
  • the Queensland Government consider targeted training and accreditation processes and clear practice direction for stakeholders regarding procedural requirements for court proceedings, and
  • that any alternative proposal to the youth justice system considered by the Queensland Government should include adequate and effective diversion programs and services, including place-based and culturally appropriate practices, to support young people and address factors which lead to offending behaviour.

The committee rejected overwhelming support from stakeholders to raise the MACR to 14, saying more work needed to be done.

“Considering all evidence before the committee and noting the importance of appropriately balancing the welfare of children with community safety, as well as the need to address the complex problems that give rise to children entering the justice system, the committee considers there is more work to be done before the (MACR) is raised in Queensland,” the report says.

QLS was one of 20 stakeholders to make oral submissions to the committee on during public hearings on 14 February, along with Queensland’s Human Rights and Family and Child Commissions; Youth Advocacy Centre; Department of Education and Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs; Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council; Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Taskforce, and former Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson AO APM.

Queensland’s Youth Advocacy Centre (YAC), in its submission, said the case for raising the MACR to 14 years was objectively well-evidenced.

“The youth justice system and youth detention centres are not appropriate spaces for 10 to 13-year-olds,’’ it said.

“Youth offending is a developmental or social welfare issue at heart. It is best addressed by relying on evidence and research, so that effective responses, addressing the causes of children’s behaviours, can be put in place for the benefit of both the community and the individual child.

“Children should be at home, in school and participating in family and community activities. They do not belong in police stations, courts, and detention centres.”

A consortium of First Nations leadership groups – including the COOEE Indigenous Family and Community Education Centre, Bidjara Community and Goorathuntha Traditional Owners, South-east Queensland First Nations Elders Alliance, Bayside Community Justice Group Elders and Brisbane – lodged a joint submission to support raising the MACR.

QLS submission

QLS President Kara Thomson told the committee that evidence-based research showed lifting the MACR would prevent the likelihood of young people becoming recidivist offenders.

“(QLS’s) 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.

“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.”

Read the committee report.

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