Turning 18 is a big deal in New Zealand. Once you're 18, you can drink, vote, smoke, buy scratchies, place bets at the TAB or use pokies.

At 17, you can't legally do any of those - but you can be tried in court as an adult.

New Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft has launched a campaign to persuade Cabinet ministers to raise the upper age limit for the Youth Court from 17 to 18. To me, that is sensible. At 18, you still have your whole life ahead of you.

Yes, you should know right from wrong by that age but a silly, spur of the moment decision which could see you charged and dealt with in court is likely to do more damage than good in the longer term.


The Youth Court can still dish out a punishment for the crime but it is geared more towards preventing future offending than just locking someone away.

A teenager sentenced in the Youth Court could be fined or sentenced to supervision (which is like probation), community work or a period in a Child, Youth and Family Services residence.

To me, those options seem more suitable for a young person than throwing them in prison with seasoned criminals.

That said, it will always depend on the nature of the crime. If someone 17 or younger kills someone, they can, and should be, charged and tried as an adult. Youth is not a defence for killing someone.

Being dealt with through the Youth Court process also means you do not get a criminal record.

I think, in the majority of cases, we should be giving these people a second chance to be a productive member of society.

If you have a criminal record before you even leave school, it is going to severely limit your career options from the get-go and make it harder to get your life back on track.

At that age most people are still dependent on their families and are only just starting to think about setting out on their own.

I think we should extend that leniency to people who are 17 and 18 as well.