The Federal Government is being called on to provide leadership on raising the age of criminal responsibility.

In 2018 the Meeting of Attorney’s General began exploring the idea of raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 years old to the international standard of 14.

The WA Department of Justice led a working group which produced a report on the matter, however multiple attempts by media and politicians have failed to have the report released to the public.

In July 2020, MAG deferred a decision on the matter saying more work needs to be done on exploring alternatives to incarcerating children, however a year on, nothing has progressed.

After being pressed by advocates, federal Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said that a decision to raise the age was ultimately up to states and territories.

Minister Cash’s comments were reflected in MAG’s response with a spokesperson saying the overwhelming majority of offences committed by children are state and territory, not Commonwealth, offences.

Co-Chair of Indigenous advocacy group Change the Record, Cheryl Axleby says the federal government washing their hands of the decision is unacceptable.

“Every day that the Attorneys-General refuse to act, they are condemning a generation of our children to a lifetime behind bars.”

“One year ago, every state and territory was given the chance to unite to close the gap and change the cruel laws that lock children as young as 10 years old away behind bars.”

“They failed to take action then, we are calling on them to take action now to raise the age of criminal responsibility and invest in the community programs and family services that will keep our children safe and healthy and strong.” 

More Transparency Needed

The working group’s report has not been released to the public, despite most authors of submissions giving their approval.

A spokesperson for MAG says Meeting of Attorneys-General are confidential, and Attorneys-General have not agreed to release the draft report.

A copy of the report was leaked in March and reportedly recommends the age of criminal responsibility be raised.

It is understood that the public release of the report has been opposed by New South Wales and Queensland.

NIRS has contacted the Attorney General departments for Queensland and New South Wales for comment.

Queensland is yet to respond.

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman was unavailable for an interview however a spokes person provided the following response:

The age of criminal responsibility is being considered at a national level by the Meeting of Attorneys-General.         

Any reform in this area would need to be in the best interests of the community, with the safety of the community a key consideration. This includes the need for adequate processes and services for children who exhibit offending behaviour.

The NSW Government will closely consider any recommendations of the Working Group which has been reviewing the issue.

The department didn’t answer questions around whether NSW opposed the public release of the report.

#MeAt10 #RaiseTheAge

This week – Co-Chair of Change the Record and proud Narungga Woman Cheryl Axleby called on people to post a photo to twitter of themselves at the age of 10 with #MeAt10 and #RaiseTheAge.

Many have jumped on board to post photos of their younger selves.

Yorta Yorta woman Meena Singh is the Legal Director for the Human Rights Law Centre.

The ACT is the only jurisdiction to commit to raising the age. Attorney General Shane Rattenbury has accused other jurisdictions of dragging their feet due to a lack of political will.

More posts can be found here.

Last year – almost 500 children under 14 were imprisoned, 65 per cent of who were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Almost 70 per cent of children imprisoned last year were on remand, meaning they hadn’t been convicted of a crime.

Advocates for raising the age of criminal responsibility are demanding transparency and action.