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Raising NZ'S Minimum Age Crucial to Criminal Justice Reform

Raising NZ'S Minimum Age Crucial to Criminal Justice Reform
National Coalition of Howard Leagues for Penal Reform

Tonight in Geneva the government will accept ten out of 11 recommendations on criminal justice made to it following the UN's Universal Periodic Review on 21 January.

These recommendations include:

* reduce prison overcrowding
* address discrimination in the justice system and increase rehabilitative support for Māori prisoners
* improve prisoner access to physical and mental health services
* raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility
* ensure prison conditions comply with international human rights standards
* raise awareness of relevant human rights standards through training programmes for those working in criminal justice areas.

Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility is the only recommendation that the government will not fully accepted.

"The issues of overcrowding, prison conditions, access to healthcare and discrimination go to the heart of the need for robust human rights in our prisons" said Christine McCarthy, spokesperson for the National Coalition of Howard Leagues for Penal Reform. "Not criminalising children is equally important. We know many people locked into the cycle of recidivism are the result of being children who were criminalised at a young age. The current government's kaupapa of kindness, compassion and well-being needs to be directed at this issue."

New Zealand's minimum age of criminal responsibility is:
(a) 10 years for murder and manslaughter
(b) 12 years for serious offences (i.e. punishable by a maxiumum of life or 14 years).
(c) 12 years if the child is a previous offender
(d) 14 years for other offending

(Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 s272(1); Crimes Act ss21, 22)

In January 2019, the UN's Committee for the Rights of the Child's draft revision of the General Comment 10 on children's rights in juvenile justice stated: "States parties are encouraged to increase their minimum age to at least 14 years of age. At the same time, the Committee commends Statesparties that have a higher minimum age, for instance 15 or 16 years of age."

The Howard League strongly supports raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR). NZ's MACR is out of line with international expectations as well as our own domestic ages for responsibility in other areas (e.g. marriage, voting etc.). A low age of responsibility does not reflect research in human development regarding decision-making and a child's understanding of consequences, nor children's maturity and skills to cope with situations which may impact on offending.

The Wellington Howard League currently has a petition to Parliament to raise the age to 16 years (https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/petitions/document/PET_88249/petition-of-christine-mccarthy-for-wellington-howard-league).



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