Evidence supports age of criminal responsibility being 14

News 26 April 2023

Wednesday 26 April 2023

The Commission for Children and Young People and Victoria Legal Aid reaffirm our call to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 immediately.

‘There is a wealth of international and expert evidence that children under the age of 14 do not have the maturity to fully understand the impact of their actions,’ said Louise Glanville, Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) CEO.

‘A criminal justice response to young children’s behaviour is neither fair nor effective; rather it causes further harm to children who are already vulnerable and risks entrenching them in the justice system,’ said Liana Buchanan, Commissioner for Children and Young People, today.

‘Intensive, therapeutic services that wrap around children – and, in the case of Aboriginal children, respect their cultural identity and connections – will address the causes of offending and decrease community risk,’ said Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Meena Singh, today.

In June 2021, the Commission recommended that the age of criminal responsibility be raised to 14 without exceptions in Our youth, our way, its inquiry into the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria’s youth justice system. The Commission first recommended that the age of criminal responsibility be raised in a 2016 report to government.

VLA provides legal assistance for most children involved in the criminal justice and child protection systems, as well as many requiring support through the NDIS for complex needs.

‘In our experience, most children on criminal charges have experienced trauma, mental health issues, or involvement in the child protection system,’ said Ms Glanville.

‘The system over-imprisons First Nations children, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have experienced violence or neglect.’

From our practice experience in court every day we know that the younger a child is at their first sentence, the longer they are likely to be involved with the youth justice system. They are also more likely to spend time in prison as an adult.

‘Rather than criminal charges, these children need early intervention and support programs to improve their wellbeing so they can go on to live healthy and productive lives,’ Ms Glanville said.

We acknowledge the Victorian Government’s decision to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 in 2024, with a further move to 14 in 2027 for most offending.

However, based on our collective experience, we will continue to advocate for the age of criminal responsibility to be lifted to 14 now, in line with international standards and evidence.

Media inquiries

For Commission for Children and Young People please contact, Darren Lewin-Hill at darren.lewin-hill@ccyp.vic.gov.au 0437 046 360.

For Victoria Legal Aid please contact Naomi Woodley, Manager, Media, Communications and Engagement at naomi.woodley@vla.vic.gov.au or 0409 281 304.

See also:

Lives are at stake. We need Australian governments to heed expert advice and raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 (Guardian Australia)