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We need commitment and action now to raise the age to at least 14 years

Youthlaw is part of a large coalition of organisations here in Victoria and nationally – all committed to and calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to at least 14 years of age.

 Over the weekend you would have seen reports that Australia’s Attorneys-General have agreed to work on a  proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years old.

This announcement confirms that raising the age of criminal responsibility is an important national issue which has considerable support.

However this announcement to plan a proposal to raise the age to 12 years doesn’t take the crucial step of committing to raise the age.

Attorney Generals across the nation promised a plan to develop a proposal to raise the age over 3 years ago, but have as yet delivered nothing. All the while, children across Australia continue to be arrested and locked away.

Disappointingly this announcement focuses only on considering raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years, not to at least 14 years. This is contrary to all the best legal and health advice, including from the Australian Medical Association, that says a 14 years old is the absolute youngest age a child should ever be subjected to the criminal legal system.

When a child aged under 14 engages in offending behaviour it should be a call to urgent action. The question should be what does this child and family need in the way of support.

At this stage only the ACT has taken any action in line with this expert advice and committed to raise the age to 14 years. 

If governments across Australia only raise the minimum age to 12 years, then 456 out of the 499 children under 14 years in prison last year would remain locked away behind bars and being harmed.

So we continue to call on and support the Victorian Government to take the urgent further step to commit to raise the age to at least 14 years. Last year there were no children under 12 years in youth detention in Victoria. Now we must build on this and legislate to keep all children under 14 years ( 29 children last year) out of prison.

Tiffany Overall

Advocacy and Human Rights Officer /

Ending the criminalisation of young people

Youthlaw, in partnership with 17 other leading social services, health, legal and youth advocacy organisations from Smart Justice for Young People, have supported a collective response to the current  Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice System by the Legislative Council’s Legal and Social Issues Committee (the Inquiry)

Co-Convenors of the coalition Tiffany Overall and Anoushka Jeronimus gave evidence to a public hearing of the Inquiry this week.

They asked the Committee members to imagine a system where there is shared responsibility for preventing offending and re-offending  and keeping the community safe – where Government, education, health, social services and communities all work together to provide early  support to families and help children develop in positive ways and maintain connection with family, community and education.

Victoria must prioritise early support, intervention and prevention, as the most effective ways to promote health and wellbeing and reduce child and youth offending.

They  stressed the importance of ending the criminalisation and overrepresentation in the justice system of Aboriginal children and young people, culturally & linguistically diverse children & young people and young people with experiences of family violence and the out-of-home-care system.

Other key recommendations of the SJ4YP Response are:

  1. A joined up cross government approach to crime prevention that supports young Victorians to lead safe and fulfilling lives
  2. A “justice reinvestment” strategy to reduce the number of children at risk of offending
  3. Building on what we know works to reduce offending and divert children away from the legal system, including cautions, diversion and restorative justice
  4. Minimise Victoria Police members’ interactions with children and young people and ensure members are accountable for fair, professional conduct within the scope of their roles and appropriately resource independent oversight of complaints of police misconduct
  5. Victoria raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14
  6. Victoria legislate to ensure to no child under 16 years can be imprisoned in youth justice detention.
  7. Detention must be a measure of absolute last resort and for the shortest amount of time possible
  8. Urgent reform to bail laws so that young people are only exposed to remand in rare and exceptional circumstances, and only young people over the age of 16 years
  9. Children and young people in youth justice detention facilities must be treated respectfully, humanely and with a focus on rehabilitation, including prohibiting solitary confinement, implementing Government’s obligations pursuant to OPCAT and the provision of an equivalent standard of healthcare to what is available in the community,
  10. A differentiated response to young people under 25 years in the adult prison system, including by expanding the dual track system to include young adults aged 21 to 25.
  11. Judges and magistrates meeting critical core competencies and skills to practice and make decisions that are culturally and gender aware/safe, trauma informed, understand child brain and young person development and neuro diversity, best practice engagement with young people, family violence and recidivism.

SJ4YP members supporting this response

Anglicare Victoria

Dr Diana Johns, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Melbourne University

CatholicCare Victoria

CMY Centre for Multicultural Youth

Federation of Community Legal Centres Vic

Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre Inc along with the Police Accountability Project

Inner Melbourne Community Legal

Jesuit Social Services

Melbourne City Mission (MCM)

Oz Child

The Kimberley Foundation

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service



Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic)


YSAS Youth Support – Advocacy Service

Community lawyers call for public health approach to compliance with directions during circuit breaker lockdown

As a group of community lawyers, we call on the Victorian Government to adopt a public health-based response that encourages COVID safe behaviour and compliance with the latest lockdown circuit breaker restrictions.

We believe a public health response should not heavily rely again on the use of fines during this circuit breaker lockdown.

During the earlier lockdowns we saw certain groups within the community, already being over policed, being much more likely to be fined. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were at least  five times more likely than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be fined. People living in lower socio-economic areas were twice as likely to be fined, and people born in East Africa and young people were also overrepresented in those people issued COVID fines.

Adopting a public health-based response that uses education and warnings to help people

understand and comply with health advice  is more effective and compassionate than issuing fines.

We welcome the education approach recently taken by Victoria Police in its compliance crackdown to ensure community members are wearing masks on public transport. Police handed out masks to commuters and would only fine where someone refused to wear a mask without a valid reason for not wearing one.

We know from earlier lockdowns that fines don’t keep the community safe: masks, social distancing and vaccinations will.

It is more effective to provide assistance to comply with directions, asking people ‘how we can help you follow the restrictions?’ rather than ‘are you breaking them?’

Children under 18 should be warned and referred to community supports and education to address barriers to good COVID safe health.

Fines should only to be used as a last resort.

Unfortunately, in earlier lockdowns the public health response relied heavily on use of fines – with over 40,000 fines being issued. Around 90% of COVID fines issued to date have not been paid. Many people we assist are in a financial positon that means they will never be able to repay such excessive fines.

Even though government has halved the amount of COVID fines for under 18s, most children will still not be able to pay and will instead accumulate stressful debt.  If unpaid, there is the risk that these young people will be pulled into the justice system.

There is a risk that vulnerable people saddled with these crushing fines will be left behind in COVID-19 recovery.


Fitzroy Legal Service

Inner Melbourne Legal Centre

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

Barwon Community Legal Service

Springvale Monash Legal Service Inc

Media Contact:  For interviews or media requests, Tiffany Overall, Youthlaw or 0400 903034 or Alana Schetzer, Communications Advisor, Youthlaw

Welcome announcement by Victorian Government to strengthen police integrity

We welcome the announcement today by the Victorian Government to strengthen police integrity. We wait for the detail but call for significant investment in IBAC to enable them to conduct independent investigations of not only corrupt police but also those who abuse their powers and mistreat the public.

Independent investigation of serious complaints against police are long overdue . The Victorian cross parliamentary Inquiry into the Police Complaints system in 2019 recommended IBAC be expanded with funding & powers to independently investigate serious police complaints . The Victorian Government  in December 2019 accepted this and all recommendations of the Inquiry.

Youthlaw and others who have monitored treatment by police of vulnerable Victorians commend this important step to ensure police interactions with the community are of the highest standard and accountable .

Recent press coverage of a significant number of incidents where police mistreated usually highly vulnerable people , has highlighted the need for police to be held more accountable .

Currently 99% of complaints to police whether serious or not are all handled and investigated internally in Victoria Police.  Police have enormous powers including handling of weaponry and charging citizens. These powers need to be overseen and monitored to ensure they are not misused.

The vast majority of police demonstrate skill & compassion in the interactions with the public . For those who do the right thing ,those who don’t must be held accountable & weeded out.

Over 20 years we have seen young people mistreated by police but unwilling to complain because of fear of repercussion either by local police or in the court .  This needs to change .

Ariel Couchman

CEO Young People’s Legal Rights Centre

Mobile : 0438812937

( note unavailable today 7-5-21 from 10.30 to 12 & 2-3pm )

Ariel Couchman