The Victorian Government’s new Youth Justice Strategic Plan 2020-2030 contains some strong elements that will have a positive impact on the lives of children in Victoria. 

However, Smart Justice for Young People, a coalition of social services, health, legal, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, youth advocacy organisations and academic experts, are calling for the Victorian Government to also commit to raising the age of legal responsibility from 10 to 14. 

While there are some promising developments – particularly the Strategy’s focus on early intervention, diversion, and restorative justice which will reduce the number of children and young people in contact with the youth justice system – the new Strategy does not include a clear roadmap during the ten year period for keeping kids under 14 out of prison.

If Victoria wants to achieve a world-leading youth justice system, then we must first lead in Australia. Raising the age to 14 is a crucial evidence-based reform that would reduce offending by acknowledging collective responsibility to support children in Victoria.

Medical evidence shows that ages 10 to 13 are a critical stage for a child’s development. Children this young lack emotional, mental and intellectual maturity and have limited capacity to think through the consequences of their actions. The majority of kids in the youth justice system are from disadvantaged backgrounds and have suffered neglect, trauma and abuse.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely to be involved with the youth justice system at a younger age than non-Aboriginal children, and are overrepresented in Victoria because of the low age of legal responsibility. Raising the age is a crucial step in line with the Aboriginal Justice Agreement and future Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy.

The current youth justice system is more likely to reinforce factors that lead to reoffending compared with community-based services that support children to reach their potential. We can do better for our kids, and it is time that we reinvest in services which support young people to build stronger, healthier relationships with their families and communities.

We commend Minister Carroll for acknowledging in this new Strategy the importance of having young people supported by members of their own community, and engaging global justice experts to develop and improve Victoria’s youth justice system.

We acknowledge that there is currently a national consultation through the Council of Attorneys-General to potentially raise the age of legal responsibility to 14. We call on Victoria to be a leader in this process. 

If Victoria wants to be the best state for all children to grow up in, then the Victorian Government must commit to raising the age, end over representation of children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and reinvest in young people’s futures.

Confirmed signatories: 

  • Aboriginal Justice Caucus
  • African Australian Communities Leadership Forum Inc
  • ARC Justice
  • Berry Street
  • Centre for Adolescent Health
  • Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare
  • Centre for Multicultural Youth
  • Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre
  • Human Rights Law Centre
  • Justice-involved Young People (JYP) Network
  • Koorie Youth Council
  • Law Institute of Victoria
  • Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service
  • VACCHO
  • West Justice
  • Whitelion
  • Wotha Daborra Consortium
  • YACVic
  • Youthlaw
  • YSAS

Media Contact: 

For interviews or media requests, please contact Thomas Feng, Media and Communications Manager, YACVic, 0431 285 275, tfeng@yacvic.org.au on behalf of the SJ4YP Coalition. Interviews available with experts and leaders from the Coalition.

 

About Smart Justice for Young People: 

Smart Justice for Young People is a coalition of over 40 leading social services, health, legal, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and youth advocacy organisations working together to create change for children and young people who come into contact with the justice system.

The group works together to shift political and public attitudes, to advise government on innovative evidence-based approaches, and to challenge policies and practices that harm young people.

The coalition is informed by the experiences and voices of young people, experienced practitioners on the ground, leading researchers and health experts, and communities across Victoria.

To determine eligibility VALS will:

  • enquire as to the Aboriginality of the client;
  • enquire as to perceived or actual conflict of interest;
  • enquire as to compliance with the Means Test;
  • consider the merit of the client’s matter.

Aboriginality
The first time someone uses VALS they must provide proof of their Aboriginality using the Confirmation of Aboriginality Form. This form must be signed and sealed by the Officer Bearers of a recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Conflict
VALS must not decline to provide assistance to an eligible person, group or body on the grounds that the other party to the matter is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. In circumstances where the relationship between the parties to a case would result in a conflict of interest, that conflict must be managed in accordance with the Victorian Legal Practice requirements and Policy Direction 9 – “Managing Conflicts of Interest” – of the Attorney-General’s Department Policy Directions for the Delivery of Legal Aid Services to Indigenous Australians (2008).

VALS will not act if a conflict of interest exists. A conflict of interest may be an ‘actual’ conflict of interest or a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can involve:

  • Clients who have different interests, such as VALS may have advised or acted for person “A” (old client) who has an interest that conflicts with person “B” (intended new client).
  • Clients and VALS, such as a VALS staff member or Board Member has an interest that conflicts with an intended new client. Conflicts involving client-provider relationships are:
    •  An owner, director, manager, employee, contractor or agent of VALS and/or;
    • An employee of the Department; and/or
    • A close relative (spouse, de facto, parent, sibling or child) of any of the above.

VALS provides assistance on a first in best dressed basis (i.e. provide direct assistance to the party who approaches VALS first). VALS will refer the other party to another legal service provider or “brief out” the client to a private lawyer (subject to the client meeting the requirements for brief outs). Where appropriate, VALS may act for one client and provide assistance by brief out to the other.

Means Test
Where a person seeks casework assistance, VALS must ensure that applicants satisfy the Means Testing provisions of the Policy Directions.

VALS must ensure that all applicants for legal casework assistance satisfy one or more of the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Main source of income comes from Community Development Employment Projects; (CDEP) participant wages or Centrelink (or equivalent) benefits; or
  • Gross household income is under $52,000 per annum.

Note: Household income includes the income of your partner, spouse, relative including an adult child who you live with.

The Means Test will be administered in two parts:

Part A: Requires the completion of a small number of questions relating to the applicant’s personal circumstances and income level.

Part B: Is required where applicants do not satisfy the criteria in Part A. It requires more detail about the applicant’s income, assets, employment status and number of dependents.

Merit Test
Discretion will be used to determine if a particular case has merit.