Paediatricians welcome ACT’s move to listen to medical advice and raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility

 10 May 2023

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), representing paediatricians and physicians, has welcomed the ACT Government’s decision to introduce legislation to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14.

The ACT Government introduced the Justice (Age of Criminal Responsibility) Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 (‘the Bill’) to the parliament on Tuesday. The Bill will raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 on commencement before being lifted again to 14 in 2025.

RACP President and Paediatrician Dr Jacqueline Small says “The RACP has for years been advocating for state and territories governments to lift the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14. We are pleased the ACT Government has listened to expert medical advice and will raise the age to 14, but we are concerned that this change won’t happen until 2025.

“The move means the ACT will lead the nation when it comes to implementing this important reform. Victoria has committed to raising the age to 14, but not until 2027.”

Dr Small said while the reforms announced by the ACT Government are a step in the right direction, the ACT should not wait until 2025 before raising the age to 14.

The RACP has previously written to the Standing Council of Attorneys-General (SCAG), urging them to heed the medical advice and commit to raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 across Australia.

“We hope this reform by the ACT Government will prompt other states and territories to follow suit so there can be a nationally consistent response in determining the minimum age to incarcerate a young person,” Dr Small said.

RACP Spokesperson, paediatrician, and adolescent health specialist Dr Mick Creati says, “Incarcerating children from a young age entrenches intergenerational disadvantage, compounds existing trauma and removes their basic dignity and human rights.”

“We should be helping these children go on to lead healthy lives, instead of making their developmental problems worse by incarcerating them.”

Professor Nitin Kapur, President of the Paediatrics and Child Health Division and RACP spokesperson says “While it is pleasing to see some governments move towards raising the age of criminal responsibility, it is very concerning to see so many others ignoring clear medical advice.

“It is especially concerning because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are disproportionally represented in the criminal justice system and make up 59% of all youth detention across Australia. Incarcerating this particularly vulnerable cohort of children will perpetuate existing inequality, harm their health and connection to their community and make it more likely that they will become entrenched in the criminal justice system."

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