Northern Territory becomes first Australian jurisdiction to raise minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years

Home Politics Northern Territory becomes first Australian jurisdiction to raise minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years
Northern Territory becomes first Australian jurisdiction to raise minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years

The Northern Territory has become the first Australian jurisdiction to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility above 10 years of age, in a move the National Children’s Commissioner has described as a welcome “first step only”. 

There was applause in parliament late on Tuesday as a bill raising the NT’s lower age limit for criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 was passed by a 16-8 majority.

The legislation also specifies that children aged 12 or 13 years old can only be considered criminally responsible for an offence “if the child knows that [their] conduct is wrong”.

Attorney-General Chansey Paech said the changes would help break the cycle of youth re-offending in the NT. 

“The revolving door to our detention centres stops here, the cycle of youth crime stops here,” he said. 

“To make our community safer we must adopt smarter solutions that reduce crime … smart solutions that are proven to break the cycle of reoffending, prevent crime, and keep the community safe.”

A close-up of NT Government minister Chansey Paech.
Chansey Paech says the raising the age is about turning to “smarter solutions” to reduce crime. (ABC News: Hamish Harty)

Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said the evidence was “unavoidable” that the earlier a child entered the justice system, the more likely they were to re-offend.

“When you sentence a 10- or 11-year-old to prison, you’re not sentencing them to rehabilitation, to a life of better behaviour, to be that upstanding citizen. You are sentencing them to increased behavioural problems, and potentially and most likely, the evidence shows us, a life of criminal activity,” she said. 

“Primary school-aged kids … are not hardened criminals who need to be locked away.”

The bill was also supported by Independent Mulka MLA and Yolngu man Yingiya Guyula, who said its passage was a small step towards changing “racist systems”.

However, he said the age should be further raised to 14 – an age he said “corresponds with Yolngu understanding” of greater maturity.

“When our children are becoming more responsible and aware of their actions, it is an age we expect to see them hunting for their families and teaching younger children to hunt and protecting them from harm,” he said. 

The exterior of the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, with barbed wire in the foreground.
The royal commission into NT youth detention was sparked by a Four Corners investigation into the treatment of detainees at Don Dale.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

Five years since royal commission recommendation

Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years was one of more than 200 recommendations made by the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory in 2016.

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