Criminal age of 17 out of step: lawyers

TOO young to vote, legally drink or smoke, 17-year-olds are considered adults in Queensland only when it comes to crime.

It's a ''highly questionable logic'', according to the Queensland Law Society, which has campaigned against the state's policy for years.

An advocacy paper released by the Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian has renewed calls for the Queensland government to change its policy and set the age of a child in the criminal justice system to under 18 - bringing it in line with every other state and territory in Australia.

It is a call backed by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The commission's president, Gillian Triggs, said she ''fully supported'' the advocacy paper because the policy contradicted international law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty Australia has signed.

In 2011 there were 35 people aged 17 in Queensland adult jails, 29 of them on remand.

''[The age of an adult] has been set and agreed at 18 and I think we should respect that and indeed more than respect that, as the Australian government, the sovereign nation of Australia, has accepted its responsibility and we should comply with it as, of course, do all the other states and territories in the country,'' Professor Triggs said.

Following the Liberal National Party election win in March, Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie indicated the new government would not alter the Youth Justice Act 1992, which sets the age of a child at under 17.

The government's key justification is that at 17, individuals ''should have a fully developed sense of right and wrong and should therefore be held criminally responsible for their acts or omissions in the adult justice system''.

The Commission for Children and Young People paper dismissed that argument as ''inaccurate, as the age of criminal responsibility is 10 under federal and state law'' and disregarded evidence that showed the parts of the brain that govern impulsivity, judgment and foresight didn't develop until a person was in their early 20s.

A Brisbane lawyer and member of the Queensland Law Society criminal law committee, Ken Mackenzie, said many of the 17-year-olds he represented were like ''deer in the headlights'' when faced with the adult system.

''You are not old enough to vote, we don't consider you responsible enough to enter into a legal contract … but you are old enough to understand the court procedures of an adult court and you are old enough to suffer the indignities of adult jail [is what Queensland is telling them].''

All three groups said they would continue to lobby the Queensland government.

This story Criminal age of 17 out of step: lawyers first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.