Calls continue for ACT government to raise criminal age

Calls continue for ACT government to raise criminal age

The Human Rights Law Centre has called on the ACT government to raise the age a child can be held criminally responsible from 10 years old to 14 years old.

The centre's legal advocacy director Ruth Barson said the reforms were commonsense for a jurisdiction ahead of the curve in human rights.

"The ACT is very much a community that respects human rights," Ms Barson said.

"Locking up children under the age of 14 is incongruent with that commitment."

"Australia is one of the few countries on Earth with such a low age for locking children up."


Ms Barson warned even a program like a "spent convictions scheme", which limits the disclosure of previous convictions, was still harmful.

The courts can ignore previous convictions when hearing for another charge but some convictions still need to be disclosed when it came to travel or employment.

"Children as young as 10 who we know aren't developmentally ready to be in the criminal justice system can be stained by that for their entire lives," Ms Barson said.

An example, she said, was if an employer asked if someone has ever been convicted of an offence, when that individual would still have to answer yes.

Ms Barson pointed to New Zealand, where the criminal age of responsibility was 14 years old.

"That's graded. For some very serious offences, that is lowered to 12," she said.

Ms Barson said the ACT government already has the infrastructure in place to support young people at risk, with a "great" youth justice blueprint in place.

Justice Directorate data showed the number of 10 to 14-year-old Canberrans held in detention, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, had increased by about 45 per cent over three years.

The data shows the number of young people detained in the Bimberi detention centre had risen from 22 in the four quarters leading up to June 2014 to 32 in the four quarters leading up to June 2017.

The recent report on the blueprint blamed this on a sudden spike in detentions in December 2016 quarter.

But the data also indicates the apprehension of 10 to 14 year old Canberrans dropped about 30 per cent over a four year period.

The data shows a drop from 204 in the for quarters leading up to June 2013 to 143 apprehensions in the four quarters leading up to June 2017.

Ms Branson said the ACT had always prided itself on leading the way on progressive issues.

"This is a way or really putting their moeny where their mouth is," Ms Branson said.

"I don't think there needs to be a huge amount changed other than a very archaic law."

Ms Branson's comments followed calls by recently retired ACT attorney-general Simon Corbell who said reform on the issue was possible within Chief Minister Andrew Barr's current term.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data also showed Aboriginal Canberrans aged between 10 and 14 years old were up to seven times more likely to be charged by police than non-Aboriginal children the same age.

In the last quarter of 2017, 19 of 57 inmates at Canberra's Bimberi youth detention centre, or 33 per cent, were aged between 10 and 14 years old, according to data tabled in the Legislative Assembly.

Finbar O'Mallon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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