Age of Criminal Responsibility

Age of Criminal Responsibility

  • Children are subjected to the same criminal law as adults, but with different treatment
  • Every effort is made to provide the young person the opportunity to rehabilitate
  • In NSW, a child under the age of ten is regarded too young to form criminal intent (mens rea). This is referred to as doli incapax.
  • This legal principle is outlined in the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987 (NSW), which protects children by:
    • Prohibiting the reporting of the child’s name
    • Requiring that any convictions will be cleared after 3 years.
    • Holding the matter in the children’s court.

0-9 years old

Cannot be charged with a criminal offence.

10-13 years old

Rebuttable presumption of doli incapax – prosecution can prove that the child was capable.

14-15 years old

Criminally responsible for any offence committed – capable of having doli incapax. No conviction can be recorded unless it is a serious offence.

16-17 years old

Criminally responsible for any offence committed and a conviction may be recorded, but the case will be heard in the Children’s court.

18 years and older

Full adult criminal responsibility, with case to be heard in an adult court. If the offence was committed before the accused’s 18th birthday, it can still be heard in the children’s court until the accused turns 21.


Extract from Legal Studies Stage 6 Syllabus. © 2009 Board of Studies NSW.