Today, the Council of Attorneys-General decided not to raise the age of criminal responsibility. This is despite research from the Australia Institute and Change the Record that shows that most Australians agree children as young as 10 years old do not belong in prison, and that Australia’s age of criminal responsibility should be increased from 10 years old to the global median of 14 years old, or higher.

As the Victorian Government moves forward with its raft of legislative and strategic reforms in the youth justice space, VALS urges it to take heed of the position of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Committee has asked Governments to acknowledge the scientific findings and increase the minimum age to at least 14 years, as well as fixing an age limit below which kids may not be detained, such as 16 years. The Committee noted that over 50 States parties have raised the minimum age following ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that the most common minimum age of criminal responsibility internationally is 14.

In Australia 10 year old kids are still detained. During a pandemic. In locked down facilities, as we have seen in the past week in both the Parkville and Malmsbury Youth Detention Facilities. It is past time for us to catch up to the rest of the world, and close this shameful chapter.

Quotes attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:

“I am deeply disappointed in the lack of leadership shown by the refusal at today’s Council of Attorneys-General meeting to take the necessary steps to make real, systemic change. The decision simply does not reflect what Australians want.  

Australians have made it clear that they want some of the most vulnerable people in our community – our children – to be cared for, to be given opportunities rather than robbed of them. With the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in the criminal legal system and detention, the Governments have effectively turned their backs on improving the lot of Aboriginal kids and addressing the shameful inequalities we see in our system today.

You cannot claim to support the Black Lives Matter movement, if you don’t think little Black lives matter.

We urge the Victorian Government to turn this disappointing obstacle into an opportunity to go it alone and become leaders in Australia by committing to raising the age in Victoria to at least 14.”

End                                                                                                                                              Contact: Andreea Lachsz
alachsz@vals.org.au

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.