Age of Criminal Liability (ACT)
The age of criminal responsibility in the minimum at which a person can be charged and found guilty of a criminal offence. In the ACT, the age of criminal liability currently stands at 10. However, the ACT government has committed to raising the age of to 14. This page deals with the age of criminal liability in the ACT.
Children under 10
A child younger than 10 cannot be arrested, summoned, charged or found guilty of a criminal offence in the ACT. Young children are considered insufficiently mature and developed to be held criminally responsible for their actions.
If a child under 10 does an act that would amount to an offence if it had been committed by an older person, this is dealt with by parents and teachers. The child may be referred for counselling but the criminal justice system will not be involved.
Children 10 to 14
When a child is over 10 but under 14, they can be charged with criminal offences. However, there is a common law presumption that a child under 14 is not capable of being criminally responsible for an offence. This principle is known as the doli incapax (incapable of evil) presumption. This presumption can be rebutted with evidence that the accused child did know that their actions were seriously wrong as opposed to simply ‘naughty’.
When a child under 14 is prosecuted, the prosecution must adduce evidence that the accused understood the nature of their actions and knew that they were wrong. If the court is satisfied that the child had the capacity to understand the nature of their actions, it may find the child guilty. If not, it must acquit them.
Diverting a young person
In the ACT, when a young person commits a minor offence that is related to alcohol or drug use, the matter may be diverted away from the criminal justice system through a diversionary program where this is appropriate. This will only occur where the young person is eligible for diversion and where the young person admits the offence and both they and their parents’ consent to the matter being diverted.
When a matter is diverted, the young person will be required to take part is specified programs. If the requirements of the program are successfully completed, there will be no further action. The young person will not get a criminal record and will not be required to attend court.
Prosecution of young persons
When a young person is charged with criminal offences, their matter will commence in the Children’s Court. Most criminal matters where the accused is under 18 are also finalised in the Children’s Court. However, very serious indictable matters must be committed to the Supreme Court for finalisation.
The court may also record a conviction against a young person.
Raising the age of criminal liability
In recent years, there has been widespread concern that the age of criminal liability is too low in Australia. An increasingly high number of young children, especially Indigenous children, are in youth detention in all states and territories either after being sentenced or while on remand.
Advocates of raising the age of criminal liability argue that criminalising young people at an early age leads to poor long-term outcomes, including a lower chance the youth will complete their education and a higher chance they will come into contact with the justice system as an adult.
In May 2023, the ACT government introduced The Justice (Age of Criminal Responsibility) Legislation Amendment Bill to the Legislative Assembly. The Bill will raise the age of criminal liability to 12 on commencement, and to 14 by July 2025. It is hoped these changes will lead to better community outcomes and lower rates of recidivism.
Age of criminal liability elsewhere in Australia
In August 2023, the Northern Territory became the first Australian jurisdiction to raise the age of criminal liability from 10 to 12. The Queensland government has given its ‘in principle’ support to raising the age to 12, and Victoria plans to raise the age first to 12 and then to 14 by 2027.
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