• Meena Singh says Australia's refusal to act will mean more First Nations children ending up behind bars. (Human Rights Law Centre)Source: Human Rights Law Centre
Human rights lawyers say dozens of expert submissions supporting a raise in the age of criminal responsibility have been supressed as jurisdictions around the country pass harsher laws.
Keira Jenkins

19 May 2021 - 3:26 PM  UPDATED 19 May 2021 - 5:26 PM

The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) has questioned the Federal government's motives in not publicising expert advice related to raising the age of criminal responsibility. 

The Centre says it has made repeated freedom of information requests to access more than 90 expert submissions from 2018.

These submissions, from legal, health and youth organisations, were given to the council of attorneys general when they began investigating the potential to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Australia from 10 to 14.

Yorta Yorta and Indian woman and HRLC legal director Meena Singh told NITV News she is concerned that governments have had these submissions for over a year, and not publicly released them, although the majority of them have been marked as non-confidential.

"We don't know what the government is doing with the information that they've got," she said.

"We understand from our freedom of information requests that there were over 90 submissions made and the overwhelming majority of those called for raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 at least.

"That's based on medical evidence, that's based on coming into line with international standards, where the median age of criminal responsibility around the world is 14 years.

"It's also coming from understanding how children's development happens at that very young age."

'Trapping Aboriginal kids'

The HRLC's attempts to access these submissions, and a subsequent draft report from the council of attorneys general, have been denied.

A number of these submissions have since been made public by their authors.

The report of the attorneys general was leaked to the media last month, but has not been publicly released by the council.

Ms Singh said it is concerning to see this inaction while some states, most recently the Northern Territory, are passing harsher youth justice laws.

"It's concerning when we know, that there is this evidence out there and we know there is a report out there that supports raising the age to 14," she said.

"It's really concerning that we're not seeing this. It makes us wonder and question the governments various motives in this.

"We've seen really harsh legislation passed in Queensland and the Northern Territory... that is going to trap Aboriginal kids further."

The attorneys general have said raising the age of criminal responsibility will be further considered. 

Ms Singh said she hopes any decision is based on the evidence they have received, and that the attorneys general consider what is best for children and their communities.

"We want to see decisions made that are based on evidence, and the evidence is strongly that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised from just 10 to at least 14 years of age," she said.

"We need to stop dehumanising children who offend and we need to stop treating them as if they're adults, because they're not.

"We need to really think about the things that keep children safe and the things that will help children to thrive and achieve what they want to in life."

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