In the Media

Age of criminal responsibility 'should be raised from 10 to 14'

PUBLISHED December 2, 2009

The age of criminal responsibility should be raised from 10 to 14 to protect children from an "unwieldy and opaque" courts system, a report has found. 
At present, child defendants are at increased risk of suffering miscarriages of justice because the courts service does not identify their vulnerabilities or ensure they understand their legal rights, the Prison Reform Trust claimed.

Given that many child offenders are among "the most vulnerable children in society", they should instead be dealt with through a welfare-based system rather than an adversarial court trial.

Couple accuse social services of 'kidnapping' daughter The report also calls for the principle of doli incapax, the presumption that children aged from 10 to 14 lack the understanding to be criminally responsible, to be re-established, and imprisonment for those aged under 14 to be abolished in line with other European countries.

It means that children including the two brothers, aged 10 and 11, who admitted torturing, beating and sexually assaulting two other boys aged nine and 11, in Doncaster last year would escape criminal proceedings or incarceration along with the killers of two-year-old James Bulger in 1993.

But Juliet Lyons, chair of the trust, said there were better ways of handling young offenders both over and under 14 - tackling the root issues to ensure they do not reoffend.

"There is nothing fair about a system where things are not explained or understood and vulnerable people are not represented or protected," she said.

"A single high profile miscarriage of justice catches the headlines but literally thousands of children and people with learning disabilities are ill served by a system that does not take account of their needs.?

The report claimed that "many" working in the youth justice system believed the adversarial system was "inappropriate" as a means of addressing the wrongdoing of children and that they would be better dealt with through a "welfare-based approach".

"A welfare-based approach to offending by children does not imply that the harms caused by the offending should be overlooked, but seeks to address harmful behaviour by responding to the child?s welfare needs ? on the assumption that these needs are likely to be at the heart of the offending behaviour," it said.