AMA wants age of criminal responsibility to be raised from 10 to 14

The age where children can be dealt with in the criminal justice system should be raised from 10 to 14, a peak medical body says.

The Australian Medical Association's federal council passed a new policy last week aimed at increasing the age of criminal responsibility to prevent the "unnecessary criminalisation of vulnerable children".

Currently children aged 10 to can be charged, prosecuted, and imprisoned.

AMA Tasmanian president Dr John Davis was not at the council meeting but supported the move.

"In this day and age to have a 10 year old prosecuted and imprisoned is inappropriate," Dr Davis said.

'Children need rehabilitation and guidance rather than incarceration.

"To imprison a child is to reinforce bad behaviour.

"Governments have been tardy on this for some time and it needs to change."

AMA federal president, Dr Tony Bartone, said most  children in prison come from backgrounds that were "disadvantaged".

"These children often experience violence, abuse, disability, homelessness, and drug or alcohol misuse," he said.

"Criminalising the behaviour of young and vulnerable children creates a vicious cycle of disadvantage. and forces children to become entrenched in the criminal justice system.

"Children who are forced into contact with the criminal justice system at a young age are also less likely to complete their education or find employment, and are more likely to die an early death.

"Australia has one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world."

Dr Bartone said the "criminalisation" of children was a nationwide problem that disproportionately impacted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

​Former legal director of the Aboriginal Legal Service Michael Mansell agreed with the AMA's policy and said children needed to be treated as children and not as criminals.

"We have had a 13-year-old girl strip searched and taken to police cells and 150 other Tasmanian children similarly dealt with in that way," he said.

"That doesn't mean if a child breaks the law that the police don't intervene but they should be dealt with as misguided youth, not as an adult seeking personal gain."

Mr Mansell said children should not be locked up and that the Ashley Youth Detention Centre needed urgent reform.

"From the outside, and inside too, Ashley looks and acts like an adult prison," he said,

"We need more of a focus on rehabilitation and not governments who want to take a hard approach and lock up kids."

Attorney-General Elise Archer said Tasmania and other states had agreed to examine whether the age of criminal responsibility should be raised through a working group of the Council of Attorneys-General.

"That work is ongoing," Ms Archer said.

"It is important that any reform in this area be progressed in a nationally consistent manner.

"From a Tasmanian perspective, the government continues to explore and develop options that have a strong focus on diverting children away from the criminal justice system, and under the Tasmanian Youth Justice Act 1997 detention is to be considered a sentence of last resort, with any loss of liberty to be for the shortest possible time".