Victoria to move to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 within four years – ABC News

Victoria to move to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 within four years - ABC News

Victoria will move to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 within four years, a timeline several legal groups say is too long and risks trapping a new generation of children in the “quicksand” of the justice system.

Last week, the ABC revealed the government planned to raise the age from 10 to 12 — drawing criticism from youth justice advocates, who said there was already ample evidence to support raising the age to 14.

Today, the government announced the youth justice reform would take place incrementally, with legislation to be introduced later this year to lift the age to 12 next year.

Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said more work needed to be done after that to further lift the age to 14.

There are significantly more offences by 12 and 13-year-old offenders.

Crime Statistics Agency data

Number of alleged incidents in 2022

10 years


11 years


12 years


13 years


14 years


Ms Symes said the aim was to lift the age to 14 by 2027, but could not put a date on when legislation to do that would be introduced — the next election is in November 2026.

The government faces a potential challenge pushing the laws through the upper house, with the Greens wanting an immediate move to 14 and the opposition raising concerns over the proposal.

Last week, shadow attorney-general Michael O’Brien labelled any rise unnecessary.

Legal groups say immediate age raise to 14 ‘absolute bare minimum’

Ms Symes said the policy was designed to keep children out of the justice system.

“When very young children engage in harmful behaviour, we know that something has gone terribly wrong in their life,” she said.

“We need to respond effectively and compassionately whilst still making sure they’re accountable for their actions.

“This important reform is a careful and considered first step towards making sure fewer children are entering the criminal justice system and ensuring the safety of all Victorians.”

Change the Record — a coalition of legal and youth advocacy groups behind a national Raise the Age campaign — said raising the age to 14 with no exceptions was the “absolute bare minimum reform” the government should be making.

“The government’s commitment to consider raising the age to 14 by 2027 is too little, too late, and risks exposing an entire generation of children to the quicksand of the criminal legal system,” the group said in a statement.

“Evidence shows that the earlier a child is locked up in jail, the more the child is at risk of being entrenched in the justice system and re-offending later in life.”

The age of criminal responsibility in Victoria is currently 10.()

The Law Institute of Victoria’s president Tania Wolff said she was disappointed by the length of time it would take to raise the criminal age of responsibility to 14.

“We know that prisons predominantly have children between 12 and 13 at the moment,” she said.

“Those children who are being arrested and going through the justice system is going to continue now until 2027.”

Outgoing co-chair of the First People’s Assembly of Victoria, Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, said she and other Aboriginal advocates were disappointed in the government’s failure to raise the age to 14 immediately.

“I think we’ve seen in our communities the results of what’s happened when our children have been incarcerated, and they come home and their life trajectories have gone down, not up,” she said.

Youth Law program director at West Justice, Anoushka Jeronimus, said the decision was condemning another generation of young people.

She said the government’s plan to strengthen existing laws around assessing the mental capacity of young offenders would not prevent further harm until the age is eventually raised to 14.

“It is simply not a sufficient protection,” she said.

“Even if it were beefed up, it will not achieve what can be achieved by officially raising the age of criminal responsibility here in Victoria.”

Opposition says it needs to see details of reform

Shadow Attorney-General Michael O’Brien said he had concerns and questions over the government’s proposal.

“If a child who knowingly commits a crime isn’t going to be held legally accountable, how are they going to be set on the right path?” he asked.

“There’s nothing in today’s announcement that tells the public how the government will replace criminal responsibility with any other form of responsibility.”

Shadow Attorney-General Michael O’Brien says accountability needs to be built into any changes.()

He said any changes needed to ensure other children were protected from their peers.

“If an 11-year-old is attacked or sexually assaulted by a classmate, where is the accountability, where is the justice for them?” he asked.

He would not confirm if the opposition would oppose legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility but said the government had a lot of work to do to explain the reform.

“We want to see the detail of this legislation, we want to see what is going to be replacing it as a form of accountability for children who do and knowingly commit crimes,” he said.

Victoria’s Police Association, which has previously indicated its support for raising the age to 12, noted the government’s proposal to eventually raise it to 14.

Secretary Wayne Gatt said what happened beyond the age of 12 needed to be matched with proper funding and support as crime data showed the age of 12 was a turning point. 

“It is the age at which the prevalence and severity of criminal offending spikes, with ages 12 to 14 particularly problematic in high harm offending and crimes committed against people,” he said.

“We believe that if the age of criminal responsibility is raised from 12 to 14 in Victoria, the most heinous of crimes including murder and terrorism offences still warrant special consideration.”

Victoria’s former Chief Magistrate, Nick Pappas, was also in favour of the decision to raise the age to 12.

However, he questioned how older children could be held accountable if the age is raised to 14.

“I am not sure I want to see a 13 year old who commits a terrible offence simply being absolved of it without a further review of their capacity,” he said.


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