Professor Chris Cunneen has an international reputation as a leading criminologist specialising in Indigenous people and the law, juvenile justice, restorative justice, policing, prison issues and human rights.
Chris has been researching the arguments in relation to raising the Minimm age of Criminal Responsibility, taking keen consideration to the affects of Indigenous youth. His paper written in 2017 “Arguments for Raising the Minimum Age of Criminal Resposibility” has shown that there are effects to children who are slipping through the system and becoming caught in a repeat cycle of institutionalisation, that can cause greater harm in the long run.
The age of criminal responsibility is the primary legal barrier to criminalisation and thus entry into the criminal justice system.
Chris recently spoke at the National Conference on Indigenous Incarceration on the Tweed Coast and the area of mental illness and the avenues of looking after the welfare of our youth.
The statistics are overwhelming that in 2015-16 there were 878 under 14 year olds placed under community supervision in Australia and there were 599 under 14 year olds who went into juvenile detention throughout Australia in that one year. 67% were Indigenous children. More than two out of three youth, this is a staggering number of of Indigenous youth in the system at such an early stage.
Nationally the minimum age is 10 years old. Some Australian states set the MACR at 10 years in the mid-to late1970s (Queensland (1976), NSW (1977) and South Australia (1979)). However, only since the early 2000s has there been a uniform approach to the MACR in all Australian jurisdictions (Cunneen et al 2015: 250).
Chris, provides a number of reasons for raising the age: international comparisons; the protection of children’s rights; the limited ability of the common law doctrine of doli incapax to protect young children; child developmental arguments and issues of mental illness and cognitive impairment; criminological arguments relating to the failure of a criminalisation approach; and the views of juvenile justice practitioners. In addition, this paper argues that a low MACR adversely affects Indigenous children who comprise the majority of children under the age of 14 years who come before youth courts in Australia and are sentenced to either youth detention or a community-based sanction.
“This needs to be taken up from the community. The suggestion is to increase to 14 years, with exceptions on the serious offences.”