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Why ten-year-old children should not be held criminally responsible

Creator : Harriet Pierpoint, Affiliate Professor of Criminology, College of South Wales

In a current 12-month interval, police in England and Wales made slightly below 60,000 arrests of youngsters. Of those circumstances, which concerned crimes together with theft and delinquent behaviour, practically 27,000 ended up in court docket.

A few of these defendants had been simply ten years previous – the minimal age at which a youngster might be prosecuted and punished by regulation for an offence in these international locations. In Eire and Scotland it’s 12, whereas in Sweden and Denmark it’s 15.

The age age of legal duty is rarely mentioned by the mainstream media or politicians within the UK. When it’s, the talk typically goes hand in hand on the subject of homicides by youngsters. However the rarity of those stunning and unhappy occasions is seldom talked about.

One such case, the killing by two ten-year-olds of the toddler James Bulger in 1993, is usually cited by these in favour of a low age of legal duty. The argument goes that if a baby is sufficiently old to behave like an grownup and commit a severe crime, then they’re sufficiently old to be handled like an grownup and a legal.

However this implies society is keen to deal with legal youngsters in a different way to different youngsters. Whereas adults understand childhood as a interval of innocence, argues regulation professor Julia Fionda, as quickly as particular person youngsters fail to stay as much as grownup perceptions of what youngsters must be like, they lose their “angelic” standing and are seen as a substitute as “devils”.

The dying of James Bulger additionally led to the abolition of one thing referred to in authorized phrases as “doli incapax” (incapable of evil). Doli incapax meant that youngsters aged ten to 14 had been presumed to be incapable of crime except the prosecution may show (past cheap doubt) that the kid knew that what they had been doing was significantly flawed, relatively than naughty or mischievous.

In different phrases, it was assumed that youngsters underneath 14 weren’t criminally accountable except they understood the seriousness of their wrongdoing. Doli incapax protected some youngsters concerned in minor offending, the place the distinction between significantly flawed in comparison with naughty or mischievous could also be much less clear in some youngsters’s minds.

However that doctrine was abolished in England and Wales in 1998, leaving an age of legal duty of ten, the bottom in Europe. That is too younger.

To search out out what others suppose, I lately launched an on-line survey of public opinion on the age of legal duty in England and Wales. Thus far, from greater than 200 responses, a transparent majority (88%) suppose the age restrict must be raised -– with probably the most often cited age being 16. The rationale given by individuals is normally a perception that that is an age by which most youngsters can distinguish proper from flawed and have an understanding of the regulation.

The proof

Another excuse to lift the age of legal duty is the rarity of probably the most severe crimes being dedicated by youngsters. The proof reveals that within the yr ending March 2020, three of the 187 individuals (1.6%) convicted of homicide in England and Wales had been underneath 16.

Of round 49,100 confirmed offences dedicated by youngsters in that yr, the principle offence sort (31%) was violence towards an individual.

Statue of Lady Justice in front of legal books.
In want of a rethink?

For authorized functions, the seriousness of a violent offence is measured on a scale starting from one (least severe) as much as eight (most severe). General, slightly below 140 confirmed offences dedicated by youngsters had the best gravity rating of eight, which accounts for under 0.3%.

General then, recorded severe violence by youngsters is rare and the overwhelming majority of offences dedicated by youngsters are thought of to be much less severe.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, there’s additionally an absence of consistency throughout the broader legal and civil regulation in England and Wales. The efficient age of most civil duties (enjoying the lottery, claiming advantages, voting, shopping for a pet, sitting on a jury) is 16 or above.

There may be additionally neuroscientific analysis which reveals that adolescents’ brains predispose them to threat taking behaviour and responding emotionally, with out the identical talents as adults to manage their impulses and think about the long-term implications.

This displays what has been extensively noticed – that there’s a rise in legal behaviour in youngsters that peaks in late adolescence, which then declines all through grownup life, when, some argue, they “develop out” of crime. In the meantime, analysis reveals that contact with the legal justice system can prolong the legal careers of youngsters, relatively than curtail them.

There may be an acknowledgement of this within the “youngster first” strategy to justice, which emphasises diversion and minimal intervention, and has been adopted as a strategic precedence for England and Wales.

There may be additionally some will to no less than look once more on the age of legal duty, with a UK authorities overview into the topic beneficial final yr. In view of the proof, and to embrace the thought of minimal intervention extra absolutely, it’s clear that the age must be raised.


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