Assembly to start discussing revision in age of criminal responsibility

Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Issue 608, Page 5
Word count: 499
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

After several years of discussion and research, the SAR government yesterday presented the bill to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 14 in three types of “extremely serious offense”.

The Executive Council completed discussion on the bill which proposed that the existing criminal liability system should “basically remain unchanged”, but offenders aged 14 or above and below 16 could be prosecuted for committing “extremely serious crimes”.

The existing Penal Code of Macau states that people under the age of 16 are excluded from criminal liability for their actions.

The spokesman of the Executive Council, Tong Chi Kin, said at the government headquarters that five conditions must be fulfilled before a minor could be convicted for “causing deaths of others, causing severe bodily harm on others, or carrying out serious sexual violence, which means rape”.

The five criteria are – “the criminal behaviour must be committed in a form of violence; is able to create anxiety or fears in society; has brought the victims indelible or irreparable consequences; has seriously violated social ethics; and also was intentionally carried out by the juvenile offenders”.

Hence, Tong said the bill would include amendments to the Penal Code so that people aged 14 but below 16 would no longer be excluded from criminal liability for their actions.

However, in cases when the minor were caught before the offense was committed or for playing the role of an accomplice, the spokesman said the age of criminal liability would remain at 16.

Meanwhile, the bill proposed to reduce the parole requirements for juvenile offenders. In which, a prisoner could be released under supervision after completing half of their sentence instead of the original two thirds.

Tong said the relaxation was to encourage young inmates to “restore normal lives and return to society as soon as possible”.

In addition, in order to “better implement counselling services”, prisoners aged below 18 should be isolated completely from other adult inmates in terms of their activity areas.

The bill also proposed mandatory education for prisoners under 18 years old.

According to the spokesman, there were a “very small number” of cases involving juveniles having committed the three types of “extremely serious crimes” in the past year, but added that for over the past decade, there were about 23 cases of such kind in total.

Tong admitted that society had “much controversy” about lowering the age of criminal responsibility in Macau.

However, he said the research and public opinions collected previously showed that “more than half of the people” were supportive to the proposal.

In 2006, the Macau government commissioned the City University of Hong Kong, the University of Macau and some social organisations to conduct research and public consultation.

Studies on the prevalence of law breaking among minors, mental development of adolescents, social factors in relation to criminal liability, as well as the comparison of the criminal liability systems between countries and regions were carried out.

The bill will be passed on to the Legislative Assembly for deliberation.

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