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LCA questions delays to raise criminal age of responsibility

Australia’s peak legal body today renewed its push for federal law reforms to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) across the nation to 14 years of age.

Today marks the second anniversary since Australia’s Attorneys-General were presented the MACR ‘Working Group Report’ – the details of which have yet to be released publicly.

Law Council of Australia President Tass Liveris said it was time for all Australian governments to raise the MACR to at least 14-years-old without further delay.

“According to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, there were nearly 450 children aged between 10 and 13 in detention in 2020-21,” Mr Liveris said.

“Since the Working Group Report was presented to the Attorneys-General, hundreds of children under the age of 14 have been locked up and thousands more have come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Four months ago, a Queensland parliamentary committee rejected the move to lift the MACR from 10 to 14, recommending instead a continued national approach to increase the age to 12.

The Community and Support Services Committee tabled its report and recommendations in Parliament on 15 March 2022 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 of Queensland – 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.

QLS was one of 20 stakeholders to make oral submissions to the committee 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.

Mr Liveris, in a statement obtained by QLS Proctor, yesterday said two years had elapsed since the MACR Working Group presented its report – the details of which have to be made public.

“Not only has definitive action not been taken, the Working Group Report has not even been publicly released during this time,” he said.

“Being subjected to the criminal legal process at such a formative age can cause significant harm to a child’s health and wellbeing.

“First Nations children, children who have experienced abuse and neglect, have mental ill-health or cognitive disabilities, or have been in out-of-home care are more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system.”

He said contact with the criminal justice system in early adolescence could have long-term negative effects on a child’s education and development.

“It makes no sense that a child of 12 cannot lawfully sign onto Facebook, but can be arrested, held in custody and imprisoned,” he said.

“While the Meeting of Attorneys-General has previously announced support for development of a proposal to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years, the Law Council does not believe this goes far enough.

 “Let’s make sure another year does not go by without us moving to protect our children.”

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