Sign reads 'No justice in a racist system' at Black Lives Matter rally, Melbourne, 2021

Dozens of submissions made public after AGs refuse to act on raising the age of criminal responsibility

In an unusual move, 48 organisations have today publicly released their submissions to the Council of Attorneys-General working group on raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Australia from 10 years old.

The step follows two-and-a-half years of inaction and delay by federal and state Attorneys-General, who have so far failed to progress the matter despite numerous commitments to do so. 

Currently children as young as ten right across Australia can be arrested, strip searched and locked up in prison cells. This is out-of-step with medical evidence, human rights law and international standards, with the median age of criminal responsibility worldwide being 14 years old.

All 48 submissions call for the minimum age to be raised nationally from 10 to 14 without any exceptions, while all but three raised the fact that imprisoning young people entrenches them in the criminal legal system and increases the likelihood of reoffending.

More than 90 percent refer to Australia’s current minimum age of criminal responsibility – 10 in all states and territories – as breaching international human rights law or international standards, and 96 percent say the current laws are contributing to the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in prison. 

Cheryl Axleby, Co-Chair, Change the Record Co-Chair: 

“Dozens and dozens of submissions made by legal, health and youth experts have been hidden and ignored by Attorneys-General for over a year, as they have sat and done nothing while our children languish in prisons. The evidence is clear – ten year old children belong with their families, not in prison cells. I can only assume that state and territory Attorneys-General have refused to publish these submissions because they lack the political courage to act. We cannot let this evidence sit on the bookshelves of politicians like the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and so many other inquiries and reports – state and territory governments must take action now and raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14 years old and give every child the opportunity to thrive.” 

Priscilla Atkins, Chair, NATSILS: 

“No child belongs in prison. Raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 is one action that Australian Governments can take right now that will have an immediate – and generational – impact to end the over-incarceration of First Nations kids and to give our kids a brighter future.” 

Meena Singh, Legal Director, Human Rights Law Centre:

“It beggars belief that the chief law officers in the country could be so complacent when it comes to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Australia, which is totally out of step with international human rights law and international standards

“They say they need more research-based evidence to raise the age, but the evidence is crystal clear. And it’s been sitting on their desk for over a year. Locking up children as young as 10 does not make the community any safer. Instead, it further entrenches those children in the criminal legal system and proves that governments have failed to provide culturally safe supports instead.”

Adjunct professor Terry Slevin, CEO Public Health Association of Australia:

“Keeping very young offenders out of incarceration is vital for many aspects of their health and wellbeing later in life, and vital for directing them back to a safer place in the community in which they live.” 

Nolan Hunter, Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights Lead:

“If our governments are serious about Closing the Gap targets, there’s no more simple legislative reform that has widespread community support, as well as the support of health and welfare experts around the world than raising the age.

“The Attorneys-General have kicked the can down the road long enough. We don’t need another report to tell us that raising the age from 10 to 14 is the right, evidence-based thing to do.

“In the time we’ve been waiting for the AGs to make a decision on this crucial reform, more Indigenous people have died in prison. How many more need to lose their lives before we do something meaningful to address the overrepresentation of our people in Australian jails?”

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