Policing very young offenders under the age of criminal responsibility

Mr Paul Hart1

1Queensland Police Service, Brisbane, Australia


Very young offenders under the irrebuttable age of criminal responsibility in Australia (under 10 years) who exhibit what would otherwise be considered to be criminal behaviour cannot be prosecuted, leaving law enforcement agencies to formulate their own responses. With the current level of scrutiny of youth justice systems around Australia and debate looming regarding the possibility of raising the age of criminal responsibility in Queensland and in other states and territories, the need to better understand and respond to this cohort is vital.

Research undertaken by the presenter in a 2018 study focused on analysing the cohort of very young offenders dealt with by members of the Queensland Police Service through the process of ‘behavioural counselling’, specifically within the calendar year of 2010. This research is focused on understanding the size, demographic make-up and complexity of issues associated with this under 10 cohort, who had contact with Queensland Police during that single calendar year. This research also allowed analysis to be undertaken in relation to a sub-set of offenders whose offending history subsequent to receiving ‘behavioural counselling’ continued through the age of 18 in 2018, revealing the extent and nature of their offending. This research has been the catalyst for further research regarding how law enforcement may best respond in order to proactively and more effectively divert very young offenders from later interactions with the criminal justice system. No study of this kind has previously been conducted into this cohort or the efficacy of the ‘behavioural counselling’ process.


Detective Inspector Paul Hart has over 29 years of policing experience, serving within many different areas of the Queensland Police Service in both urban and rural settings. Paul has been an appointed Detective for 24 years and lists his career highlights as being part of the QPS team engaged with the Carmody Commission of Inquiry into the Child Protection System, and more recently serving a 12 month secondment at the University of Queensland as the Police Visiting Fellow. Paul currently holds the position of Principal Project Officer for the Organisational Performance Management Project within the QPS Service Alignment Program. Paul holds a Masters of Leadership & Management in Policing, a Masters of Terrorism and Security Studies, a Graduate Diploma in Criminological Research Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Corruption & Integrity Management. Paul is currently studying towards the completion of a PhD focusing on the policing of very young offenders.