The ACT (Australian Capital Territory) government plans to introduce ground-breaking legislation to raise the legal age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old into the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday.

According to ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury, “this is an important amendment in criminal law in the ACT that acknowledges the evidence that exists around youngsters who engage in socially unacceptable behaviours.”

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“In the ACT, we will work to address the issues that contribute to youth offending, such as trauma, abuse, neglect, or unmet medical needs, and to support youth rather than criminalise them.”

Provisions of the Bill proposed by ACT Government

The Justice (Age of Criminal Responsibility) Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 will raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years by July 1, 2025, from the current 12 years. In order to ensure that damaging behaviour of this kind was effectively addressed, the bill would contain a schedule of four especially grave criminal offences that would keep the age limit of criminal responsibility at 12 years even after the age was raised to 14.

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By safeguarding victims’ interests and allowing for victim involvement and help in respect to any damage inflicted by kids or teens aged 10 to 13 years, the bill “recognises and preserves the rights of those affected by harmful behaviour,” according to Rattenbury.

By creating a new type of community-based, intense therapeutic sentence known as a therapeutic correction order, the bill will also help every child and young person below the age of 18 who involve themselves in the justice system for crimes. In order to guarantee that a juvenile offender who has been found guilty of a crime receives support to cope with their needs and lessen the probability that they will commit another crime, the order will offer wraparound services.

Expectations from the bill in the ACT

The bill is anticipated to have a major, favourable effect on the long-term welfare of vulnerable kids and adolescents, their families, and the larger society, claims Minister for Families and Society Services Rachel Stephen-Smith.

Increasing the age is a chance to alter the course of some of our community’s most vulnerable children and teenagers’ lives. Developing an improved system to assist young people and children whose complicated lives cause them to engage in destructive behaviours against both themselves and others is the goal of this project.

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A continuum of care for young people and children who are vulnerable will be created under the bill, which will serve as the foundation for a substitute service system. The 2022–23 Budget Review includes an initial commitment from the government of over $2 million over a four-year period to support new programmes for these young people and children.

Emma Davidson, assistant minister for families and community services, called it a crucial step in breaking the cycle of youth involvement in the criminal justice system. Child incapacitation is detrimental to rehabilitation. We ought to prioritise both the wellness of susceptible children as well as the safety of the community by acting early and rerouting kids and teens onto a better path.

Establishment of a Support Panel in the ACT

According to the bill, a new, neutral therapeutic support panel is going to be established to propose therapy for juvenile offenders in order to address underlying problems, including trauma and abuse.

“No matter if that’s treatment for substance abuse, mental health support, or additional assistance, it’s regarding assisting youngsters get reconnected with the correct course, as opposed to pushing them into the criminal justice system,” Mr. Rattenbury said.

Image Source – Mathematica

In order to allow the authorities time to build the freshly developed service response system, he said that the modifications were being implemented in two stages. Under more extensive changes to the juvenile justice system, judges will also have access to a community-based sentencing alternative called a rehabilitative corrections order.

Key takings:

  • The ACT has joined Victoria and the Northern Territory in attempting to increase the criminal responsibility age.
  • According to the bill, a new, independent therapeutic assistance panel would advise juvenile offenders on the best course of therapy.
  • If approved, the age of criminal responsibility would initially rise to 12 years old and eventually to 14 years old.

Palak Jain has completed her post graduate studies in law, specializing in Criminal and Security Laws. Her acumen in research and comprehension of wide variety of legal provisions helps create a unique legal perspective. With a keen interest in legal writing, Palak is well equipped to handle legal matters with precision and expertise.

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