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Law Council of Australia

Policy Agenda

Youth Justice

The Law Council of Australia is concerned about the state of youth justice across the nation. The resources below set out the Law Council’s views on a range of serious issues, from the over-representation of First Nations young people in our prisons and remand centres, to the lack of proper consideration in policy-making for the role of support services and diversion programs.

Generally, the Law Council observes that children’s human rights need to be better respected and protected in the justice system. In the context of youth justice, the introduction of human rights legislation in all jurisdictions that do not currently have it (including the Commonwealth) would facilitate change in the culture and norms underpinning the youth justice policy. Specifically, it would assist to ensure that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in driving reform.

The Law Council’s firm view is that the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) should be raised nationally from 10 to 14 years. The current MACR across Australia is incompatible with medical consensus regarding child brain development and with international human rights standards. The Law Council emphasises that communities are not safer or healthier where very young people are kept in detention. Raising the MACR to 14 years would protect young people aged 10–13 from being exposed to the youth justice system by requiring that authorities adopt alternative, more therapeutic approaches, focusing on providing these young people with critical supports, such as counselling, social support and education.

In addition, the Australian Government should continue to provide funds towards justice reinvestment initiatives and family support to keep young people out of the child protection system, as this may assist in breaking the cycle of disadvantage. This should be partnered by state and territory government funding towards justice reinvestment/early intervention approaches, having regard to jurisdictional responsibilities.

As you can read in our submissions and other documents below, the Law Council also strongly supports:

Australian communities will, generally, be safer and healthier if greater consideration and effort is given to diverting young people from the justice system, or treating them fairly if justice responses are required.

Law Council Resources