Statement from Queensland Public Guardian, Natalie Siegel-Brown, in response to review into raising the age of criminal culpability

Queensland Public Guardian Natalie Siegel-Brown has the following response the recent announcement that Australia’s Attorney-Generals will review the age of criminal culpability:

“The recent announcement of the review into raising the age of criminal culpability has generated plenty of column inches, but I am just amazed as I read the headlines and letters in newspapers across Australia. Who are these children labelled as criminals? Let’s take a minute to really talk about the kids who are behind bars in Queensland. Not just in Youth Detention Centres – but held in high number in the state’s watch houses.

“Most of the children we are talking about – and they are children – are victims of longstanding abuse and neglect. Many suffer from mental illness and many have disabilities like Autism. If you truly took one minute to look at their lives – and the systems that have shaped their survival crimes, these letters and headlines only make a crime of their trauma, of their disability, of their suffering.

“My agency has been given the privilege of overseeing and advocating for the rights of these children while they are in detention or in watch houses. I get to see the impact of this firsthand.

“The truth is, that at least 80% of these kids are NOT criminals. A criminal has been convicted of a crime. Over 80% of these kids are on remand. Let’s just revisit what this means. It means that 8 out of every 10 kids behind bars in Queensland have never actually been convicted of an offence.

“These are children as young as 10, often with no place to be bailed to because they have committed survival crimes while homeless – or because we as a society have failed to take care of our children.

“So a message to all those people who want justice done: talking about victims of child abuse as criminals, whether by headline or in conversation, defeats the very foundations of justice.

“Both Federal and State Attorneys-Generals get this. They know that the overwhelming neuroscience now demands that we re-examine the old blanket presumption that criminal responsibility begins at 10. Attorneys-Generals are reviewing not committing to raising the age of criminal culpability to 16.

“I applaud their heads and hearts for saying it’s time. We don’t often see politicians come together from all different shades of politics, rising above differences with the specific aim of pursuing what is just – and what is also backed up by hard science.

“In China and Russia, the age of criminal responsibility is 14. The median age children are held criminally responsible in Europe, is also 14. Australia has consistently drawn criticism by the UN for the age at which a child is considered criminally responsible in its various jurisdictions. We put children who should be in Grade 4 behind bars.

If we don’t re-examine the age of criminal responsibility – we are at best, burying our heads in the sand.

Congratulations Attorneys-Generals from across Australia. Your approach is a long awaited light in the dark.”

Office of the Public Guardian media contact: (07) 3006 2589 or