Project status: Consultation has closed
How you had YourSay
The ACT Government introduced a bill into the Legislative Assembly in May 2023 to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility, making the ACT the first Australian jurisdiction to legislate an increase to 14 years no more than 2 years after first raising it to 12.
The Justice (Age of Criminal responsibility) Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 aims to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in the ACT from 10 to 14 years. This will ensure children under the age of 14 years old cannot be held criminally responsible, with the exception of children aged 12 and 13 years old who commit certain exceptionally serious and intentionally violent offences.
In November 2022, the ACT Government released a Position Paper outlining how this reform would be implemented, key policy decisions already taken and what elements required further consultation.
The Position Paper reflects the feedback we heard through earlier consultations, including submissions from the community on a Discussion Paper released in August 2021. This feedback is summarised in this Listening Report.
In addition, the ACT Government commissioned an independent review led by Emeritus Professor Morag McArthur in 2021. The review's Final Report identified service system changes to support children and young people when the minimum age is raised.
What we looked at
Across Australia, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is currently 10 years old. This means children as young as 10 can be charged, convicted and incarcerated for a criminal offence.
Following the 2020 election, the ACT Government committed to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility as agreed Legislative Reform in the Parliamentary and Governing Agreement for the 10th Legislative Assembly.
Exposing children and young people to the criminal justice system can have a significant impact on their neurological and social development and can result in life-long interactions with the justice system.
The existence of a minimum age in justice systems recognises an age below which children are not able to form criminal intent in undertaking harmful behaviours, and therefore a criminal justice response is not appropriate.
Instead, we should provide therapeutic and restorative care to children and young people who are engaging in harmful behaviour.
Therapeutic and restorative care will improve outcomes for children and young people and increase community safety by diverting young people now and reducing later engagement in offending behaviour.
What is happening nationally
Attorneys General from all jurisdictions in Australia have been considering whether the age should be raised.
The Northern Territory has recently introduced legislation to raise the age to 12 and a two-year review to ensure it has the necessary support structures in place to consider raising the age to 14.
Tasmania has announced it will raise the minimum age of detention to 14 years, with exceptions for young people who commit the most serious offences.
The ACT Government is legislating to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years, no more than 2 years after first raising it to 12.
There will be no exceptions for children under 12 years old. They will not be subject to consideration in the criminal justice system.
Exceptions will be legislated, so that young people aged 12 or 13 years old can be charged if alleged to have committed the most serious of offences.
Getting ready for the change
To prepare for the introduction of the legislation, the ACT Government is reforming the service system required to support raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility. This includes
- Improving the experiences and outcomes for children under 14 years old who are engaging in harmful behaviour that brings them to the attention of the justice system.
- Leveraging this as an opportunity to improve the service system for a broader cohort of children and young people who face risk and engagement with youth justice.
- Increasing community safety by intervening early and diverting children and young people onto a healthier pathway and away from later engagement in offending behaviour.
- Working with community stakeholders to design and implement the service responses required to give effect to alternative pathways for children and young people aged 10 to 12 years old, and then 12 to 14 years old.
How we used your views
We appreciate the substantial advocacy and input we have received to date through this work, which has been instrumental in progressing this important reform.
We will continue to listen to the views of the community as we look to develop our service system and legislate to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in the ACT.