What is meant by the ‘age of criminal responsibility?
It is often asked ‘how old does a person have to be before they can legally be convicted of a criminal offence?’ This question is answered through the notion of the ‘age of criminal responsibility’ (1). The age of criminal responsibility refers to the age at which a child is legally old enough to face criminal charges (1). In all states across Australia, the age of criminal responsibility is set at 10 years of age (1). This suggests that any person under the age of 10 years old is unable to be charged with a criminal offence as they are deemed unable to understand the consequences of their actions.
Whilst children under the age of 10 cannot be convicted of a criminal offence, the notion of Doli Incapax determines the individual circumstances in which a child between the age of 10 and 14 can be charged with a criminal offence (2). Doli Incapax states there is a presumption that a child between the age of 10 and 14 cannot be charged with a criminal offence as they don’t understand the consequences of their actions (2). However, this presumption can be rebutted if the prosecution can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the child was aware of their actions and knew the consequences (2). Therefore, the ability for a child aged between 10-14 to be charged with a criminal offence is based strictly on the cognitive ability of each individual child.
When was the age of criminal responsibility introduced?
The age of criminal responsibility was enacted into Australian domestic law in 1987. This notion is protected under section 5 of the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987which notes that no child under the age of 10 will ever be found guilty of a criminal offence (3). Additionally, this section also states that children who are charged with a criminal offence that are between the age of 10 and 18 years will be dealt within the Children’s Court (3). The Children’s court places emphasis on a child’s rehabilitation, as opposed to retribution or incapacitation. Sentences given in the Children’s court include good behaviour bonds, fines and home detention (3).
Article by Amy Skinstad
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(3) Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987 section 5