Criminal law

10 years too young to stand trial – New Zealand must raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility


latest news that Thousands of counts These cases have been brought before youth courts in Waikato and Auckland over the past nine months, shedding light once again on youth crime and our responses to it.

This comes shortly after the recent rise in ramming and burglaries by young offenders. called “tsunami” Of Youth Crimes by the National Party Police Spokesperson.

And despite the evidence that there are a number of young people in court Fell in the year until June 30thopposition calls for a crackdown That could mean it will become an issue in next year’s general election.

But how the justice system treats children and adolescents remains a complex issue – especially when it comes to the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

Indeed, New Zealand was among a number of countries criticized by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for maintaining an unacceptably low age of criminal responsibility.

It has now been more than 60 years since the Crimes Act set the legal age for this Decade. The law says that children younger than that are unable to form criminal intent. Since this law was written, we have learned a great deal about Brain development Children and adolescents, and how their decision-making abilities differ from adults.

Given that this also affects their ability to understand the court’s procedures themselves, and thus their right to a fair trial, is it time to reconsider the minimum age and the reasons for raising it?

New Zealand off track

Even politicians who advocate for a tougher approach to youth crime seem to agree that keeping children out of the criminal justice system should be a priority, especially for young people and first-time offenders.

Currently, children aged More than ten but less than 14 They are subject to the adult criminal justice system. But they may avoid conviction if it can be shown that they did not know that their actions were wrong or illegal.

However, at the same time, the Oranga Tamariki Act allows children between the ages of 10 to 13 to be charged. serious crimes such as premeditated murder or manslaughter.

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Sam Ovendale was fortunate enough to avoid New Zealand’s criminal justice system as a schoolboy – but it was the right outcome

This puts New Zealand alongside Australia and others Pacific countries Where the minimum age of criminal responsibility is ten (except for Papua New Guinea and Tonga, where it is seven). Although calls for changeEngland, Wales and Northern Ireland also still recognize a minimum age of 10.

but Scotland It raised the age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12 in 2019. It is the same elsewhere higher: 14 in Germany, 15 in Sweden, 16 in Portugal and 18 in Luxembourg.

Hints of change

International law goes no further when it comes to establishing common ground. While the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Requires states to establish a separate justice system for children with a minimum age of criminal responsibility, and does not specify an age.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has sought to fill this gap. reply In light of changing trends caused by advances in neuroscience and child development, in 2019 it encouraged countries to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 (the most common age internationally at the time).

For nearly 20 years, New Zealand resisted the committee’s call and kept the minimum age for marriage at 10. It offered a range of justifications, including a desire to focus on more effective responses to child crime.

However, in 2021 New Zealand indicated some movementThe Committee was informed that it was monitoring the progress of a work team Established to review law in Australia.

Read more:
More than 90% of Year 10 teachers do not know the age of criminal responsibility in Australia

Keep children out of court

Ideas about the minimum age of criminal responsibility have evolved since at least the eighteenth century, when it was decided that in order to be convicted, children between the ages of seven and fourteen had to understand what they had done and that it was wrong.

This was reflected in the New Zealand Criminal Law Act 1893 and the Crimes Act 1908, and has only changed to varying degrees since then.

But while public safety is a legitimate goal of the justice system, including the child justice system, raising the minimum age does not mean that children will escape any consequences for their actions.

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Sending teenagers to maximum security prisons shows that Australia needs to raise the age of criminal responsibility

With more countries now raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility, New Zealand can comfortably raise its own threshold to 12 or even 14. Because most youth crimes are not serious and are therefore dealt with outside the criminal justice system, the broader society is resorting to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility. The effect may not be significant.

But it would reduce the risk that 10-year-olds who have not committed a serious crime will have access to the criminal justice system. This does not mean that they will not face any consequences for their actions. Instead, the consequences may be more effective in improving their chances later in life.


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