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No decision to raise SA criminal age as Victoria acts

The South Australian Government is yet to decide whether to raise the minimum age at which children can be arrested and detained for committing crimes, as Victoria moves to lift the benchmark from 10 to 12 years.

Apr 28, 2023, updated Apr 28, 2023
Photo: Kindel Media/Pexels

Photo: Kindel Media/Pexels

The Victorian Government on Wednesday approved a plan to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years before possibly lifting it again to 14 within four years.

The decision comes ahead of a federal, state and territory attorneys-general meeting in Darwin on Friday, when leaders are expected to discuss different jurisdictions’ proposals to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

“We want to make sure that no young person falls through the cracks,” Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes told reporters on Wednesday.

“We want to make sure that the system is in place to coincide with raising the age to 14.”

Across Australia, children aged as young as 10 can currently be arrested, remanded and jailed in juvenile detention if found guilty of committing a crime.

The United Nations, child welfare groups, medical experts, human rights lawyers and Indigenous advocates say the minimum benchmark should be no lower than 14.

The Northern Territory Government is raising the age to 12 in the second half of 2023, while the ACT Government plans to lift it to 14 by 2026.

Tasmania intends to raise the minimum age of detention to 14 but keep criminal responsibility at 10.

A spokesperson from the South Australian Government told InDaily yesterday that it “continues to consider its position” on raising the criminal age.

They reiterated that should the age be lifted, there would need to be “sufficient safeguards” in place the ensure the community was protected.

“SA’s Attorney-General’s Department is participating in a national working group investigating proposals to raise the age of criminal responsibility,” they said.

Under current SA laws, children aged between 10 and 14 are deemed incapable of understanding the full consequences of their actions, but that is a rebuttable presumption, meaning judges can convict them of criminal offences and sentence them to detention if their crimes are deemed serious.

Legislation introduced by the Greens is currently before parliament to stop primary school-aged children from being locked up in detention, but the SA Police Association and Commissioner for Victims’ Rights have expressed concerns.

Premier Peter Malinauskas told InDaily in March that raising the criminal age was “worthy of active consideration”, but he said there needed to be a “really thought-through plan about what model is going to replace it”.

“I can’t think of anything more heartbreaking than, in effect, incarcerating a 10-year-old kid,” Malinauskas said.

“I struggle with the idea that 10-year-old kids can fully comprehend the consequences of their own actions.”

But Opposition leader David Speirs told InDaily earlier this month that he opposed any change to the criminal age, arguing doing so would be “out of step with what the South Australian community would want”.

“A party position hasn’t been brought forward in a formal sense, but I would be surprised if we were seeking to change that,” he said.

“I think the current law probably has the balance right.

“It’s never going to be perfect – it’s a complex area.

“Sadly, there are some high-profile examples of this with regard to road fatalities and tragedies like that, so I don’t think the community at the moment is interested in a change.”

Children sentenced or remanded to detention in South Australia are detained at the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre at Cavan in Adelaide’s north.

Kurlana Tapa was home to 52 children aged between 10 and 13 who received a custodial sentence in 2021-22.

Children in that age bracket made up just under 18 per cent of total admissions to the centre that financial year.

The Training Centre Visitor, which advocates for South Australian children in detention, has previously reported that many detained juveniles are Aboriginal, have disabilities, or are under the guardianship of the Department for Child Protection.

A state government spokesperson confirmed Attorney-General Kyam Maher would attend Friday’s Standing Council of Attorneys-General meeting.

– with AAP

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