By Bill Rowlings, CLA CEO
The ACT government’s commitment to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years old is a very high priority, Attorney-General Simon Rattenbury told the gathering at the opening of the law year in the Territory.
“This historic reform will not only bring us in step with our international obligations, but will mean that the consequences children face for offences are not needlessly traumatising, and keep the community safer by avoiding the criminogenic effects of prison on children,” he said.
He said the reform exemplified the government’s commitment to justice reinvestment. Raising the age of criminal responsibility would involve sustained ‘front end’ investment in diversionary and support programs that address the causes of youth offending.
“We know how detrimental and often counter-productive experiences with the criminal justice system are for children, and I’m sure many of you have seen how far-reaching the impacts of those experiences are.
“We know that these impacts are felt heavily by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, whose children are overrepresented in our justice and care and protection systems.
“And we know that, in most cases, children’s offending is the result of trauma, vulnerability, and unaddressed risk factors, the AG said.
AG Rattenbury said investing in the programs and services that address the underlying causes of youth offending and divert children away from the justice system was vital.
No one panacea
“There is not one program or service that can act as the panacea. Careful planning is needed to make sure that no child is left unsupported when the legislated age for criminal responsibility is raised.
“The government is working to identify what restorative and therapeutic services need support and what gaps need to be filled to ensure that children who are at risk of harming themselves or others can be appropriately cared for.
“This reform will require a strong, concerted effort, and exploration of some tough questions to ensure the ongoing improvement of the justice system for the benefit of all people who engage with it.
“The ongoing insight and leadership of the legal community will be crucial as we bring about this reform. I want an iterative dialogue to ensure any reform draws on your experience,” he told judges, magistrates, prosecutors, barristers and lawyers generally.
“Indeed, the dedicated work by many of you in the youth justice space has already seen very few children under the age of 14 have been held in custody at the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre (photo) in recent years.
“However, as I’m sure you’ll agree, ‘very few’ is still too many.
“Your willingness to address the children who come before you with respect and sensitivity will be one of our greatest assets as we look for better, more robust ways to help our kids thrive as they navigate the challenges of adolescence.
“My hope is that the work the ACT does in this space will lead the nation toward this vital goal, ensuring all Australian children and young people will be given the chance to be the best they can be,” AG Rattenbury said.
– from a speech by ACT Attorney-General Simon Rattenbury, opening of the ACT law year, 1 February 2021, at the ACT Supreme Court.