Unless acting in self-defence, it is illegal in Australia for adults to physically assault each other. But what about kids? Most twelve-year-olds are capable of throwing punches that can cause serious injury - some even pack a wallop to rival an adult. Is this legal? Let's find out.
If your child ever comes home bruised and battered at the hands of a bully, you'll probably want to call the police. But can the law actually do anything about child-on-child violence? The answer largely comes down to the nature of the offence and the age of the perpetrator.
In all Australian states and territories, children are not held criminally responsible for their actions until they reach the age of 10. (Children under 10 are not seen as mature enough to commit criminal offences.)
Children between the ages of 10 and 15 - who are classed as 'juveniles' - can be charged for committing assault. However, these matters are generally heard in Children’s Court which has different rules to other courts of law.
For example, it must be proven that the alleged perpetrator was aware of the severity of their actions. As the Lawstuff website by the National Children's and Youth Law Centre explains:
If you are between 10 and 14 years you may be responsible for offences you commit. If you are charged with a crime at this age it must be proved in court that you knew what you did was ‘seriously wrong’ at the time you did it, and not just ‘naughty’.
Any young person aged 10 to 14 who gets in trouble with the police should get legal advice, as they may have a defence if they did not fully understand the consequences of what they did. Once you turn 14 you will be responsible for any offence that you commit.
Generally, juveniles under 16 who are found guilty of a crime do not have a conviction recorded against them. There are exceptions to this rule, such as criminal matters involving homicide and aggravated sexual assault.
In these cases, the juvenile may be dealt with outside Children's Court which means they are essentially tried as adults. But for common assault the child responsible is likely to get off scot-free.
With all that said, it's still worth notifying police if your child has been physically assaulted by a classmate. It's unlikely they will receive more than a warning - but for many children, that will be enough to scare them into behaving. You can find a deeper overview of the law as it applies to children in each state and territory here.
Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know in the comments and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.