1 / 5 / 2024

An update on raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility

On 22 November 2023, legislation came into effect in the ACT that means children aged 10-11 years of age cannot be held criminally responsible for a “Youth offence”. The legislation is retrospective.

So, what does that mean?

A “Youth Offence” is defined as an offence against a territory law committed, or alleged to have been committed, by a person who was under 12 years old when the offence happened.

In essence, this means that persons cannot be charged, or held criminally responsible, for conduct committed, or allegedly committed, when they were under 12 years of age (this includes persons who may now be 12 years or older, or even adults).

Transitional period

The territory is currently going through a ‘transitional’ period. This means that any criminal procedures, proceedings and sentences (i.e. warrants, bail refusals, criminal proceedings, or sentences imposed prior to the commencement date) in relation to a young person, aged under 12 years, have now ceased to have effect as of 22 November 2023.

Practically, this means that any person aged under 12 years who may have been served a sentence that was due to expire after 22 November 2023 (such as Good Behaviour Orders or gaol time), now ceases to have effect.

The legislation also includes ceasing action in relation to law enforcement and police (think: arrest, executing warrant, taking into police custody) as of 22 November 2023.

The future

The introduction of this legislation is also proposed as part of a stage approach, with the intention of the ACT Government to further raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years of age in July 2025. This would mean that young persons aged 12-13 years also cannot be held criminally responsible for offending.

The staged approach raises some real practical questions as to the limbo that young persons aged 12-13 years of age might find themselves in if they currently have matters in the criminal justice system, that are due to cease effect mid-next year.

Stephanie Beckedahl, Senior Associate