Vic Greens push change to age of criminal responsibility

A prison cell. Photo: Dylan Oliphant (CC BY-ND)

The Victorian Greens will introduce legislation in parliament to lift the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years old.

Currently, in Victoria children as young as ten can be imprisoned if found guilty of certain crimes.

Greens spokesman for health and justice Dr Tim Read said criminalising or imprisoning children results in long term effects on their mental health and development.

“The medical evidence is clear – children’s brains are still developing at this age, giving us an opportunity to redirect a criminal trajectory for everyone’s benefit,” he said.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends 14 years as the minimum age for criminal responsibility.

In a meeting held earlier this year, 31 United Nations member states called on Australia to meet this criteria.

“Australia’s very low age of criminal responsibility was out of step with international standards,” Human Rights Law Centre executive director Hugh De Kretser said.

There is mounting pressure for states and territories to make changes to legislation and to recognise the clear gap in acknowledging which communities are most vulnerable to youth crime.

Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous rights leader, Nolan Hunter, said the fact that the majority of children being sent to jail are Indigenous, “is not only in opposition to the UN’s own recommendations, but it is just morally wrong.”

It is up to each Australian state or territory to decide whether to raise the minimum age, with both the Northern Territory and ACT expressing the intention to do so.

The Greens plan to introduce the bill in the Victorian upper house within the next week, with the vote to take place later this year.