Children deserve care, not a criminal justice system

The Legal Council today reiterated its call for the minimum age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14 years and for children aged 10, 11, 12 and 13 to be cared for with comprehensive services in order to reduce the risk of being disadvantaged throughout their life and interaction with the justice system.

“Prison should not be a rite of passage for our children, but in 2022 we are still locking up children as young as 10 and otherwise bringing them into contact with the criminal justice system,” the Law Council president said. of Australia, M. Tass. said Liveris.

“The Law Council wants the minimum age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14, which would bring Australia into line with international standards and medical consensus on child brain development.

“When advocating for this change, we are often asked for an alternative response for children under 14. Today we published an addendum to the Legal Council’s position statement on the minimum age of criminal responsibility which outlines the approach we believe should be taken.”

The Law Council recommends that responses for children below the minimum age of criminal responsibility conform to a series of principles. These include:

• the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration;

the basic needs of the child and their family unit are met through the provision of comprehensive, multidisciplinary and therapeutic programs and services, drawing on the existing evidence base in the medical, legal and social sectors to determine what which works ;

• all levels of government provide stable, long-term investments in this early intervention, diversion and rehabilitation, which aim to both address existing needs and address pathways to the justice system at an age advanced;

• all sectors involved with children are required to meet certain minimum standards of training and practice, which are child-centred, trauma-informed and culturally safe, recognizing that children are distinct from adults in terms of brain development , impulse control and reasoning ability;

• consideration is given to the accessibility of services, including in regional, rural and remote areas; and

• Services are designed, developed, implemented and reviewed in consultation with children, their families and communities, and in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and communities.

The Law Council’s plan released today confirms that children below the minimum age of criminal responsibility should primarily be apprehended outside the criminal justice system. That is, on a voluntary basis, not dealt with by the police, not subject to formal judicial procedures and not deprived of their liberty. It recommends additional principles related to policing, courts, and coercive powers and facilities that jurisdictions should also respect when formulating and implementing non-criminal responses to children under 14.

“It is extremely rare for a young child to commit a serious crime,” Mr. Liveris said. “Therefore, in the majority of cases, children’s behavior is usually dealt with through existing means such as the parents or the child’s school.

“When children lack the support of a family unit or are disengaged from other protective environments such as schools, their behavior is more likely to attract attention and be dealt with by authorities such as the police. and magistrates.

“Many of these children have complex, overlapping needs in the areas of mental and physical health and disability, poverty, insecure housing, abuse and neglect. Our current system compounds the inequity experienced by the most disenfranchised children in our community.

“We must do everything in our power to help all children grow and lead safe, fulfilling and independent lives. Evidence shows that children remain in cycles of disadvantage and imprisonment due to a lack of early critical support services and a failure to invest in alternatives to criminalization and imprisonment.

“There is already precedent for this approach as it is essentially already in place for children under the age of 10 or who are deemed to lack the capacity to know that an act is seriously wrong in a legal or moral sense.

“We call for raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 and investing in initiatives that will keep our children out of the criminal justice system and out of prison.”

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