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Royal Australasian College of Physicians urges governments to raise the age of criminal responsibility

Giovanni Torre -

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians has called on Attorneys-General across Australia to agree on raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 at the Standing Council of Attorneys-General meeting on 1 December.

The Commonwealth, State, and Territory AGs previously agreed to provide the Standing Council with a position or update on the minimum age of criminal responsibility in their jurisdiction, offering an opportunity to modernise Australia's criminal justice system and improve health outcomes of Australian children and young people.

RACP president and paediatrician, Dr Jacqueline Small, said the College urges "all Attorneys-General to agree to raise the criminal age of responsibility to at least 14 years of age, without exception".

"Agreement this Friday is the best hope for nationally consistent reform to keep very young children out of the criminal justice system. 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," she said.

"Some jurisdictions have made a step in the right direction. We praise the NT and the ACT especially, noting they have more to do, and the leadership from the Commonwealth. Friday's meeting is an historic opportunity for all states and territories to commit to reforming our criminal justice system and protecting children from harm.

"Paediatricians and physicians support at least 14 as the uniform, nationally consistent, minimum age of criminal responsibility."

Dr Small noted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, "reflecting the ongoing health inequities they experience and reinforcing cycles of intergenerational trauma".

"This is a moment for optimism. Now is the time for governments across Australia to work together and show that they value the health and wellbeing of young Australians," she said.

"Wrap-around social supports and community-supported alternatives can lead to better outcomes than putting our children in the criminal justice system.

"The RACP looks forward to contributing its health expertise to this important national reform, to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma, and to provide a better future for our children and young people."

More to come.

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