Age of Criminal responsibility

13.04.2010

 

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the age of criminal responsibility is 10 - but should it be raised?

In the first of a new series of Law in Action Clive Coleman examines one of the most contentious issues in criminal justice.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland have one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in Europe.

In Scotland, the age is 8, but the government plans to raise it to 12.

The issue became controversial following the killing of James Bulger in 1993.

Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who were convicted of the toddler's murder, were 10 at the time of the attack

But since then, there has been new research, which some argue means the issue should be revisited.

Dr Eileen Vizard is a child psychiatrist with the NSPCC's Child Offender Service.

"There's a very substantial evidence base to show that children aged 10 are not fully mature," she says.

"They show developmental immaturity in terms of their physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development."

Dr Vizard believes that 14 or 15 should be the bare minimum age for criminal responsibility.

Laurence Lee, the solicitor who represented Jon Venables, takes issue with this view.

"For society's own protection there should be the potential and the possibility of a 10-year-old being prosecuted", he argues.

"I think the crime rate would rocket if that sword of Damocles didn't exist over a young defendant's head."

Clive also hears views from the front line on what the age of criminal responsibility should be when he spends a day at Thames Youth Court talking to young offenders, their parents and lawyers.

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