The age of criminal responsibility in England is a complete disgrace. It is patently obvious that a child of 10 does not have the level of understanding of wrong-doing that an adult has, and it is absolutely ridiculous to drag them into an adult court. The 'doli incapax' rule worked for many years, where the court first considered the level of understanding that a child aged between 10 and 14 had of the consequences of his/ her behaviour and responded accordingly, but once this was removed in the early 1990s, the age of full criminal responsibility in England became one of the lowest in the world, lower than in some non-democratic states.
This is absolutely not a call for children aged between 10 and 18 to do whatever they please and walk away scott-free. Countries with ages of criminal responsibility between 14 and 18 have systems in which children who commit serious crimes (or are moving into the category of repeat petty offenders) have to enter compulsory rehabilitation measures which are typically managed by senior professionals, where (among other measures) the consequences of continuing on the path that they are on are very clearly explained to them. However. most importantly, at the age of 18, they are able to embark on their adult lives without a criminal record. If they then re-offend, they enter the adult criminal justice system in the normal way. However, Scandinavian countries in particular that operate these types of system have a much lower level of re-offending than the UK.
In my opinion, the age of full criminal responsibility should be 18, with a requirement for offenders between 8 and 17 to be dealt with via a panel of specialist children's social workers, police officers and lawyers whose role is to support the parents where possible to help the child work through the issues underlying the offence(s), and to understand the consequences of his/ her actions. This may certainly include reparation for victims, or a period in care for the child if parents are found to be a large part of the underlying problem. Whatever the crime, any offender under 18 should have strict anonymity in any press reporting, with no exceptions.
Why is this idea important?
The recent trial of two boys aged 11 for rape (thence attempted rape) at the Old Bailey was not the act of a civilised western nation. 10 year olds simply do not have the understanding of sexual wrongdoing that an adult or even teenager has, and there are so many mulit-media opportunities nowadays for them to see images of adult behaviour that they do not understand, and may thence seek to experiment or 'act out'. While it is absolutely clear that these boys' actions should have certainly had some serious consequences, these should have been the business of the police, social workers, the relevant school(s) and all the parents concerned to agree what should be done to stop the children behaving in this way again. The idea of making them sign the sex offenders register was frankly barbaric.
One of the problems our nation seems to collectively experience at the moment is understanding that children will act like children and that adults' roles are then to behave like adults- to correct them in a measured way that helps them to see the error of their ways and move forward into adulthood unfettered by youthful mistakes. If we are going to permanently criminalise children at 11 (for example these boys will never be able to enter any of the myriad occupations that require a CRB) why should we be surprised if they continue to offend, and of course, in the process, cost the country a lot more than if we had paid to send them to Eton or Harrow? This is absolute madness.
Ironically, if the boys who killed James Bulger had been dealt with in the 'panel' way (including anonymity) , they would probably have then entered a very similar regime to the one that they were sentenced to, after being dragged through an adult court and named. shamed and sensationalised in the press. It would then have been so much easier to equitably deal with any later adult offending than it has now turned out to be!