Tasmania to apply therapeutic approach in raising age of criminal responsibility to 14
Dechlan Brennan – December 7, 2023
Indigenous groups, legal experts and advocates have commended a commitment by the Tasmanian government to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.
They have however noted it falls short of their calls for the raising to be immediate, with the Tasmanian government pledging to implement the reforms by 2029.
On Tuesday, the the Tasmanian government released their Youth Justice Blueprint 2023/24, committing to raising the age to 14 – without exceptions – as well as raising the minimum age of detention to 16.
Change the Record’s Maggie Munn congratulated the Tasmanian government on the decision, urging them to work with people who are involved at the coal face of youth and Indigenous welfare.
“I implore the Rockliff government to work with experts and communities on the ground to pass legislation as soon as feasibly possible,” they said.
“It is crucial that this legislation meets its intent: to divert children away from the criminal legal system and to give them all the support they need to have a safe and healthy childhood, where they have every opportunity to thrive.”
Tasmania Minister for Youth, Roger Jaensch, said the nation-leading blueprint had been developed alongside other agencies, young people and key stakeholders and was designed to ensure improved outcomes for children and young people who have interacted with the justice system.
“We will make Tasmania the nation’s leading jurisdiction on youth justice reform,” Mr Jaensch said.
“We will do this by developing alternatives to detention for children aged up to 15 years that result in better outcomes for young people and the communities they live in.”
He said children who are at risk, or who have already been engaged in the justice system, have a unique set of needs that require multiple service systems.
“This requires working collaboratively across government and the community to establish better connections for vulnerable children and young people, their families, and services,” he said.
The report outlines Tasmania’s intention to focus on Youth Justice from a therapeutic standpoint.
“A therapeutic approach in youth justice settings frames children and young people as vulnerable and in need of support and healing, as opposed to punishment or fear,” the report stated.
“It promotes behaviour change by providing guidance and support, a sense of self, and the safety and security to encourage growth and development.”
A letter sent to all Premiers, Attorneys-General, and Health Ministers in December 2021 from a group of 32 health and medical organisations, said the medical consensus was children under the age of 14 are undergoing significant growth and development, and may not have the required capacity to be considered criminally responsible.
Raise the Age, a coalition of welfare groups, noted whilst the delay until 2029 was disappointing, Tasmania is set to become the first Australian jurisdiction to “meet the minimum standards set by the United Nations and recommendations by medical and child development experts”.
Currently the Australian Capital Territory is the only Australian jurisdiction to legislate a raising of the age to 14 – albeit with significant carve outs and a delayed implementation.
Tasmanian Aboriginal Legal Service chief executive Jake Smith said whilst the decision is pleasing, the six-year wait is “disappointing.”
“The longer we wait, the more children end up in our justice system,” he said.
“Aboriginal youth in Tasmania continue to be impacted and over-represented in systems that do not support their needs.
“This announcement to raise the age of criminal responsibility and detention, is an opportunity for the Tasmanian Government to genuinely consult and resource organisations to support Tasmanian youth, and particularly Aboriginal youth in alternative pathways that supports their needs and closes the gap.”
Raise the Rate argued the decision by the Tasmanian government showed the rest of the country what needed to be done “so that every child in Australia can grow up with their families supported in their communities”.
Munn agreed, noting it was “hugely unfair and unjust” that Australian children and their childhoods are not protected and urged other states to follow the Tasmanian government.
“It should be a great shame to all Australians that our fundamental rights, and that of our youngest citizens, are used as political footballs and subject to fear mongering,” the Gunggari human rights campaigner said.
“It’s been more than five years of reneged commitments, delays and blatant disregard for children’s rights and expert opinions for a national consensus.”
Other Australian jurisdictions have so far resisted the call to implement the calls for change in their entirety.
Victoria will likely see the raising of the age to 12 next year as promised by former premier Daniel Andrews, and to 14 by 2027. The current Victorian government announced a youth justice overhaul in October as part of this process.
The Northern Territory enacted laws this year which mean that 10 and 11 year olds cannot be held criminally responsible, which Raise the Age says falls short of the minimum standard set by the United Nations.
Jurisdictions have seen widespread calls for change from a variety of groups.
On Tuesday, the NSW Bar association called on the state government to “establish the support services required to be able to raise the age of criminal responsibility within a clear timeframe”.
In Western Australia, a petition to raise the age and align the state with international standards gained over 15,000 signatures.
In November, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) called on Attorneys-General across Australia to agree on raising the minimum age.
“All governments need to listen to health experts who have been sounding the alarm: 10 to 12 years as the threshold for criminal responsibility is too low,” RACP president and paediatrician, Dr Jacqueline Small said at the time.