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What a difference a (leap) year makes

What a difference a (leap) year makes

We have all heard jokes about people born on 29 February in a leap year, claiming to be younger than they really are because technically they only have a birthday every 4 years. However the ACT Supreme Court has had to grapple with the implications of a leap year birthday in somewhat different circumstances.

The plaintiff in the proceedings was born on 29 February 2000. She was charged with committing criminal offences on 28 February 2018. Depending on whether the plaintiff was an adult or a child on the date of the offences, she would be dealt with either as an adult or in a Children’s Court.

A Magistrate in the Children’s Court had decided the plaintiff was an adult and that the case must be sent to the Magistrate’s Court (the equivalent of the NSW Local Court) where the plaintiff would be dealt with as an adult. The plaintiff appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

In a detailed, although still reasonably short, judgment the Court traced the distinction between the common law position (where a person “attained” an age on the day before their birthday; and the legislative position in the ACT which, as a matter of statutory construction, amended the common law to provide that a person only attains a particular age at the beginning of the anniversary of their birth (in practical terms, immediately after 12 midnight on the date of birth).

Accordingly, the plaintiff was determined to be a child on the day the criminal offences occurred, and had to be dealt with in the Children’s Court.

For what it is worth, and since I refer to jokes about leap year birthdays above, in opposing the application by the plaintiff to be declared a “child”, the DPP quoted from Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Privates of Penzance as follows:

“Though counting in the usual way, years 22 I’ve been alive,

Yet, reckoning by my natal day, I am a little boy of 5!”

The case has no particular legal significance except, perhaps, to show that depending on the legislative provisions in a particular jurisdiction, a person’s “birthday” may not be the day you think it is!

PM v Children’s Court of the Australian Capital Territory & Ors [2018] ACTSC 258.

Liability limited by a scheme approved under the Professional Standard Legislation

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