Australia’s peak law body last week renewed pressure on the nation’s state and territory governments to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 10 to 14.
The Law Council of Australia (LCA) also announced its support for properly funded services for children aged between 10 and 13 years to be provided with and supported by “wrap around services” in order to reduce the risk of a lifetime of disadvantage and interaction with the justice system.
LCA President Tass Liveris released a statement saying the raising of the MACR would bring Australia into line with international standards and medical consensus on child brain development.
Currently, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 10 across all Australian jurisdictions.
It comes less than four months after a Queensland parliamentary committee rejected a move to raise the state’s MACR from 10 to 14, recommending instead a continued national approach to increase the age to 12.
Queensland’s Community and Support Services Committee on 15 March 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.
It also recommended that the Queensland Government work with all state and territory Attorneys-General to consider an increase in the MACR from 10 to 12.
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”.
QLS has strongly advocated for years that the Queensland Government raise the MACR from 10 to 14.
On 14 February this year Society President Kara Thomson told a public hearing of the committee an overwhelming amount of evidence-based research showed that 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, said the Society recognised the importance for all Queenslanders to be, and feel, safe in their community and the Bill would ultimately provide greater community protection.
“To be very clear… the 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.
“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.
“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.”
The LCA last week reignited discussion on the topic via its release of an addendum to its MACR policy statement which outlines the approach it believes should be taken.
“Prison should not be a rite of passage for our children, yet in 2022 we are still locking up children as young as 10 years of age and otherwise bringing them into contact with the criminal justice system,” Mr Liveris said.
“The Law Council wants to see the minimum age of criminal responsibility raised to 14, which would bring Australia into line with international standards and medical consensus on child brain development.
“When we advocate for this change, we are often asked about an alternative response for children under 14.
“Today we have released an addendum to the Law Council’s Policy Statement on the (MACR) which outlines the approach we believe should be taken.”
Read the LCA’s MACR policy position.