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Raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 12

Comment 7th July 2010

Currently the age of criminal responsibility in England/Wales is 10. This is much too low. At this age children are not sufficiently mature to understand fully the nature and consequences of what they may have done  or to particpate in a complex legal process.

Our current law is out of step with most of Europe and is in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The age of criminal responsibility should be raised to at least 12, ideally 14.

(A much less preferable option would be to restore the presumption of 'doli incapax' whereby the prosecution had to prove that a child under 14 both understood the nature and consequences of the act alleged and that it was wrong).

Why does this matter?

Our current practice reflects attitudes to offending and anti-social behaviour by young people that are outdated and do not reflect current understanding of child development. It does not respect the rights of children and young people.

It is based on two erroneous assumptions: 1) that the only way to deal with this behaviour is to criminalise it and 2) that to fail to do so somehow equates to 'letting the young person get away with it'.

It's all about labelling and it's about addressing the causes of problems rather than the symptoms. Our N European neighbours absolutely address this behaviour; they do not ignore it! However, they generally regard it as a manifestation of other underlying problems – family, parenting, education, mental health etc. And they deal with these issues in a rounded, imaginative and holistic way which is ultimately much more successful. This surely is what society wants to achieve.

We do have good prevention and family support projects in UK (e.g. FIPs) which have been shown to be very successful. And lest the sceptics out there suggest that they are a soft option I would add that participation can be very demanding.

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