The Australian state of Victoria will raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 years old to 12, and to 14 by 2027, according to the state government.
The Victorian government said in a statement on Wednesday that the decision is aimed at preventing young people from entering the criminal justice system early and keeping the community safe.
As part of the reforms, the government will also codify and strengthen the existing legal presumption, known as doli incapax, which states a child under 14 can not be held criminally responsible unless they knew their actions were seriously wrong.
For the first stage of the reforms, support services will be used to help 10- and 11-year-olds and their families address the causes of problematic behaviors and prevent future contact with the criminal justice system.
Once the first step of raising the age to 12 has been implemented, a further lift to 14 years old will be carried out by 2027, with exceptions for certain serious crimes.
The state government said that consultation with key stakeholders and agencies will commence in the development of the legislation, which is expected to be introduced to parliament later this year with the change to 12 expected to be phased in late 2024.
“When very young children engage in harmful behavior, we know that something has gone terribly wrong in their life. We need to respond effectively and compassionately whilst still making sure they’re accountable for their actions,” said Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes.
“This important reform is a careful and considered first step toward making sure fewer children are entering the criminal justice system and ensuring the safety of all Victorians,” Symes added.
However, Michael O’Brien, the state’s shadow attorney-general, voiced concerns and questions over the government’s proposal.
“If a child who knowingly commits a crime isn’t going to be held legally accountable, how are they going to be set on the right path?” O’Brien was quoted as saying in a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“We want to see the detail of this legislation, we want to see what is going to be replacing it as a form of accountability for children who do and knowingly commit crimes,” he noted. ■