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Archer Must Rethink Age of Criminal Responsibility

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Tags: Children and Young People, Youth Justice, Justice

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP | Greens Justice spokesperson

Raising the age of criminal responsibility is designed to prevent children, who have not developed adult decision-making capabilities, from entering the justice system. The Attorney-General’s decision to only raise the age to 12, instead of 14, is indefensible.  

Children lack the necessary components of criminal responsibility. Between 12 and 14, that’s still the case. 

Contemporary evidence shows children under the age of 14 have immature brain development in terms of decision-making, impulse control and moral awareness. This is recognised by the United Nations Child Rights Committee and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Children under the age of 14 who commit crimes would be doing so because of unaddressed trauma. Putting a traumatised child through the various stages of the criminal justice system is likely to exacerbate trauma and increase the chance of them reoffending.

Tasmanian experts have been clear about the need to raise the age of criminal responsibly to 14, including the Commissioner for Children and Young People. The Commissioner has put the Liberals on notice, calling on them to, ‘stop criminalising disadvantage and vulnerability.’

The Attorney-General’s comments about needing a nationally consistent approach are nonsense, and expose calculated political expediency. 

As Ms Archer herself often says, states and territories are entitled to make their own laws. On this matter, the ACT has listened to the experts and will raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 – led by Greens Attorney-General, Shane Rattenbury. 

Apparently Ms Archer won’t take note of international standards set by the United Nations, or listen to the dozens of notable Tasmanians who signed an open letter calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14.  

Those people include former Chief Magistrate Michael Hill, Children’s Commissioner Leanne McLean, Australian of the Year Grace Tame, former Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks, and representatives from Amnesty International, Women’s Legal Service, Youth Network of Tasmania, TasCOSS, Anglicare and the Mental Health Council of Tasmania. 

Children under the age of 14 who break laws need social welfare interventions that address the cause of the behaviour, instead of child penal colony-thinking. Tasmania has moved on from this dark past and it’s time Ms Archer did the same.