Contributed by Lorana Bartels and Anthony Hopkins. Current to November 2021.

The minimum age of criminal responsibility is 10. That means that a child under the age of 10 can not be charged for acts that would otherwise be criminal, if they were committed by an older person. Between the ages of 10 and 14, the principle of doli incapax applies. This means that the prosecution has to prove that the child knew what they were doing was wrong. The ACT Government plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14. Once this law takes effect, only children aged 14 and over will be able to be criminally prosecuted for their actions. It is expected that the legislation will be passed in 2022, though it may not take effect until 2023.

Criminal proceedings involving children are generally heard in the Children’s Court. This is the name given to the Magistrates Court when it hears criminal cases against people who were aged between 10 and 17 at the time of their alleged offence(s) (ss 287 and 288 Magistrates Court Act 1930 (ACT)). The Children’s Court also hears other applications and proceedings under the Children and Young People Act 2008 (ACT), including proceedings relating to the care and protection of children (generally, whether they are safe living with their parents or need to be removed from them, for example, because of family violence, drug use or mental health issues).

In criminal cases, the Children’s Court has power to grant bail, hear and determine pleas of not guilty and sentence young offenders who have pleaded guilty or been found guilty after a hearing. The Children’s Court may decide that serious criminal offences should be moved to the Supreme Court (this is known as ‘committed’) for sentencing, under s 219 of the Magistrates Court Act 1930 (ACT).

General information about criminal matters in the Children’s Court can be found here. A parent or guardian must attend court whenever the child or young person is required to attend court. Children’s Court proceedings are not open to the public (s 72 Court Procedures Act 2004 (ACT)) and it is an offence to publish an account or report of proceedings in the Children’s Court if the account or report discloses the identity of the child, young person or a family member or allows the child’s, young person’s or family member’s identity to be worked out (s 712A Criminal Code 2002 (ACT)) .

The purposes of sentencing and sentencing considerations applying to young offenders being sentenced in the Children’s Court are set out above in the Introduction to Sentencing, Sentencing Process and How a Court Decides on a Sentence sections. Orders that a court can make in relation to a young person are also considered above.

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