Victoria to lift criminal age from 10 to 12

Victoria is set to become the first Australian state to raise the age of criminal responsibility but police can still use “limited force” on 10 and 11-year-olds.

Photo: Kindel Media/Pexels

Photo: Kindel Media/Pexels

The Allan Labor government announced a long-awaited youth justice bill would be introduced to state parliament on Tuesday.

The bill will create a standalone youth justice act and lift the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12.

“Ten and 11-year-olds don’t belong in the criminal justice systems,” Premier Jacinta Allan told reporters.

“They belong in schools and in places where they’re getting support.”

Children as young as 10 can be charged, convicted and imprisoned in every Australian state and territory except the Northern Territory, which raised the age of criminal responsibility to 12 in August 2023.

The ACT passed legislation to raise the age to 14 by 2025 with some exceptions.

In January, the Malinauskas Government said it was also considering raising the criminal age in South Australia from 10 to 12 years.

The United Nations supports 14 as the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

In 2023, the Victorian government vowed to lift the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years, before raising it again to 14 by 2027 with some exceptions.

Victorian police won’t be allowed to arrest or charge a child aged 10 or 11 with a crime but can move them “somewhere safe and to someone who can take care of them”.

“There will be the ability to use limited force, (such as) take the child by the arm … to put the child into a vehicle in order to protect them, to protect the community,” Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said.

The bill would also lower the age of prosecution for recruiting children to commit crimes from 21 to 18, closing a “loophole” being exploited by criminal syndicates as part of Victoria’s ongoing tobacco war.

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“It’s easier to pay someone a couple of hundred bucks as a kid and get them to do your dirty work,” Symes said.

Other changes include a legislated scheme for warnings, cautions and diversions, codifying the existing legal presumption of doli incapax and establishing a two-year trial of electronic monitoring of repeat offenders on bail.

In addition, a new youth justice victims register will be set up, an extra magistrate added to the Children’s Court and systems strengthened for transferring those over 16 to adult prisons.

Youth crime in Victoria has risen significantly since 2022, with children aged 14 to 17 linked to more than 18,700 crimes in the state in 2023 – about 30 per cent more than the previous year.

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.

Premier Peter Malinauskas told InDaily in March 2023  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 said 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”.

The SA police union also has opposed lifting SA’s criminal age.

– with AAP

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