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NSW Bar Association urges state to take action on raising the age of criminal responsibility

Giovanni Torre -

The NSW Bar Association called on the NSW Government to "establish the support services required to be able to raise the age of criminal responsibility within a clear timeframe".

The Association noted on Wednesday that the state's Attorney General has stressed the need to introduce adequate support services for children aged below any revised age of criminal responsibility.

"The NSW Government should expedite that work to facilitate the change," the Association said in a statement.

Bar Association president, Dr Ruth Higgins SC, said "this important reform should not be allowed to drift".

"There should be clear goals and timeframes," she said.

"A Standing Council of Attorneys-General (SCAG) Working Group report has provided useful advice on support services that could be provided to children aged below any revised age of criminal responsibility, but the recent SCAG meeting did not reach any national consensus to raise the age.

"The Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory, and Victoria have all acted, or announced their intention to act, on the clear evidence that raising the age of criminal responsibility is best practice policy. It is time for NSW to progress reform in the interests of our young people."

The Bar Association noted that numerous reports have demonstrated why the age of criminal responsibility should be raised, including the draft report of the Age of Criminal Responsibility Working Group, which found that: Evidence as to the development of children indicates that a child under the age of 14 years is unlikely to understand the impact of their actions or to have the maturity necessary for criminal responsibility; Children in the youth justice system, particularly First Nations children, are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, have experienced trauma, or have complex needs; and an educational, medical, psychological, social and cultural response that deals with the underlying causes of child and youth offending, rather than a purely justice-based approach, can lead to better outcomes for children and for the broader community.

Dr Higgins SC said raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14, without exception, "is crucial if we are to realise Closing the Gap".

"The latest BOCSAR figures from June 2023 show that Aboriginal young people represent 58.9% of the juvenile detention population in NSW and that the numbers of Aboriginal young people in remand increased by a disquieting 95.2% from June 2021 to June 2023," she said.

National Indigenous Times has contacted the NSW Attorney General for comment.

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