Criminal Practice Manager Alan Hensley was part of a panel discussion about the age of criminal responsibility held on 25 February 2021.
As part of the UTAS Island of Ideas series, Alan was joined by the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Indigenous Rights Advisor to Amnesty International Rodney Dillon and others to explore this issue.
Australia lags behind over 80 countries where the age of criminal responsibility is 14 or higher.
Panellists explained the impact of trauma and environment and how this can lead to childhood behaviours being criminalised. The discussion also looked at how the low age contributes to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in the justice system.
Alan spoke about the experiences of our clients and how investing in supports and diversionary programs has been shown to be successful in reducing engagement with the justice system and in making the community safer.
“The 10-to-14 year-old cohort is very starkly different,” Alan said.
“They don’t comprehend what is happening to them at that age,” he said, with children unable to differentiate between the magistrate, the prosecutor and their own defence lawyer.
“Their defence lawyer is just another adult, part of the system and they’re in trouble.”
As well as being young, the children often come from a “very difficult background” and have “dealt with some very significant trauma”.