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Greens introduce bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility

Greens MP Michael Berkman has today introduced a bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years old in Queensland, and proposed an alternative model for 10-13 year olds.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has recommended states adopt a minimum age of no less than 14. The Meeting of Attorneys-General was tasked with considering raising the age in 2019 but a failure to reach consensus among states and territories has effectively ended the national process and it has not been on their agenda since 2020. 

Michael Berkman:

“Queensland’s laws, which imprison children as young as 10, are out of line with international jurisdictions, they’re in breach of our human rights obligations, and they’re not even keeping the community safe. 

“Medical evidence shows 10-13 year olds don’t have the neurodevelopmental capacity to control impulses or foresee and understand consequences, so criminalising them like adults doesn’t work. 

“Early contact with the criminal legal system actually increases a child’s likelihood of reoffending. We need to invest in solutions that work, not more prison cells.

“Raising the age of criminal responsibility is one part of a better approach to justice.”

Greens Senator and Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman Lidia Thorpe:

“Our children are our future. Our babies need to be with their families and their communities, not prison guards!

“65% of the children under 14 that have been put in prison are First Nations babies. This shows the systemic racism in our policing and this Bill will help put an end to this injustice.

“First Nations families and communities need to be in the driver's seat when it comes to raising our kids, because we know what works for our communities.”

Alternative model 

Mr Berkman has proposed an alternative, staged model to replace the criminal system for children under 14, including early intervention and prevention, therapeutic responses to antisocial behaviour, and intensive case management for serious problematic behaviour.

A multidisciplinary expert panel outside of Youth Justice and Child Safety would be established to work with children and their families and refer them to support services, culturally appropriate community-led programs and restorative justice. Children’s hearings, similar to the Scottish model, could be held to determine whether small-scale, therapeutic supervision is necessary in the rare instances where children pose a serious risk of harm. 

The bill:

  1. Raises the minimum age at which a person is criminally responsible for any act or omission from 10 to 14 years old
  2. For a child who committed an offence before they were 14, requires that:
  • If being held in detention for the offence, they are released as soon as possible and no later than 1 month from commencement; 
  • If being held in a watch house for the offence, they are released as soon as possible and within no more than three days; 
  • The offence is expunged from their criminal history;
  • Any identifying particulars (such as fingerprints or DNA samples) taken in relation to the offence are destroyed; and
  • No proceedings or orders can be commenced or continued against them for that offence.

When transitioning a child from detention or a watch house, efforts must be made to ensure they have access to things like accommodation, parental or guardianship support and health and other support services.

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