There’s been a growing movement for some time to lift Australia’s minimum age of criminal responsibility from just 10 years to 14. Children in that age bracket are going through a period of significant growth and development and forcing them though a criminal legal process in these formative years can cause immense harm to their health, wellbeing and future, and children who are arrested before the age of 14 are three times more likely to commit offences as adults.
The disparity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children going into incarceration is huge – they account for well over half of these younger children in detention.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, expert United Nations bodies, human rights organisations, medical and legal bodies and academics have all called for this, both nationally and internationally.
A recent national push to raise the age stalled when federal, state and territory attorneys-general agreed that more work needs to be done to find alternatives to deal with young offenders.
Experts in this area who are looking into alternatives include the Honourable Dr Robyn Layton AO QC, a former South Australian Supreme Court Judge, whose own interest in this began when she authored the South Australian Child Protection Review in 2003, which has since become known as the “Layton Report”. Dr Layton and many others believe there are plenty of solutions if Australia took a rehabilitative approach though public health.
Dr Layton was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2012 for “distinguished service to the law and to the judiciary, particularly through the Supreme Court of South Australia, as an advocate for Indigenous, refugee and children’s rights, and to the community”. She was also recognised as the “South Australian of the Year” in 2012.