Top prosecutor raises debate over whether age of criminal responsibility should be raised


The head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has raised debate over whether the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales should be raised above 10, amid fears that too many children are being tried as adults.

Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill QC expressed concerns over the existing law in a podcast in which a 10-year-old child interviewer said she had been surprised to learn the age of criminal responsibility. 

Kids Law podcast host Alma-Constance Denis-Smith asked Mr Hill why the age at which children can be held criminally responsible for their actions was 10, saying that she thought it was ‘very young’.

Mr Hill, who was the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation before becoming one of England’s top prosecutors in 2018, said: ‘I agree – we all have a lot of growing up to do still, even when we reach the age of 10.

‘Everybody recognises that as we all grow up, we all go through the same process, which is that we develop. And that development hasn’t finished when you’re 10; it hasn’t finished when you’re 15. 

‘That doesn’t mean that you can’t be responsible for when you do something wrong, but it does mean that the criminal justice system needs to look very carefully and when we take people to court they’re truly responsible for what they’ve done.’

Mr Hill’s comments are likely to reignite a raging debate on criminal responsibility which saw MPs ask the Government to review the age limit in England and Wales and consider the effect of raising it to 12 or 14. 

MPs were told that if the age were increased, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson – both 10 when they murdered two-year-old James Bulger in 1993 – would not have served custodial sentences. 

Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill QC expressed concerns in a podcast in which a child interviewer said she had been surprised to learn the age of criminal responsibility

Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill QC expressed concerns in a podcast in which a child interviewer said she had been surprised to learn the age of criminal responsibility

Why is the age of criminal responsibility 10 in England – and what is it in other countries?

England and Wales, and Ireland, have the lowest age of criminal responsibility in Europe at 10.

This means that children under 10 can’t be arrested or charged with a crime, and children between 10 and 17 can be arrested and taken to court if they commit a crime. 

The age was established in 1963 but the common law principle of doli incapax afforded a degree of protection to children aged 10 to 14 by requiring the prosecution to show not only that the child had committed the alleged offence, but that they knew the behaviour was seriously wrong.

This changed in 1998, when the Labour government under Tony Blair abolished the principle by arguing that the suggestion 10-year-olds did not understand the difference ‘between naughtiness and serious wrongdoing’ was ‘contrary to common sense’. 

Responding to an open letter by 55 experts calling for a review of criminal responsibility in 2012, the Government defended the policy.

Jeremy Wright, Minister with responsibility for youth justice, argued that ‘children do know the difference between right and wrong at age 10’.  

Scotland introduced a law raising the age from 10 to 12 in 2019 which came into force last year.

READ  Confusion as Gov Gaduje reports 74 new cases of coronavirus in Kano while NCDC reports 4

Jersey said it will raise the age of responsibility from 10 to 14.

Other countries with a limit of 10 include Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.

In the Netherlands, the age of criminal responsibility is 12.

In France children younger than 13 are deemed ‘incapable’ of committing a criminal offence. 

People are not held criminal responsibility in Luxembourg until 18.

In Russia, North Korea and China the age of criminal responsibility is 14. 

In India, Myanmar, Thailand, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Swaziland, Qatar and Papua New Guinea, the age of criminal responsibility is seven. 

However, the Ministry of Justice argued that ‘children aged 10 and over are able to differentiate between bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing’, with a spokesperson today telling MailOnline ‘there are no plans to raise the age’.

In the podcast, the Director of Public Prosecutions told Ms Denis-Smith that only Parliament could change the law.

He said the law in England and Wales had ‘developed over a long period of time – many years’, adding: ‘It is sometimes complicated – how to deal with children who commit crime and the age at which we even start to think about it has been changed over time’.

The top prosecutor also noted that the age of criminal responsibility had in the past been even lower than 10, and was set at 12 in Scotland. 

Pointing to Scandinavia, where it is generally 15, he observed: ‘In other countries around Europe the age is quite different’. 

He also pointed out that in the US the age of criminal responsibility varies between states – set at 12 in Massachusetts with no exceptions and six in North Carolina. 

‘I completely understand that there are people here and around the world who want to talk about whether the age should be changed in their country, and that would include this country,’ Mr Hill said. ‘But it’s a decision that can only be taken by Parliament.’

Speaking to the Times, Ms Denis-Smith said she had been shocked to learn from her barrister parents how the criminal law would view her.

She called 10 ‘too young’ because ‘we are still in primary school and we still don’t understand how law works and what the world expects’.

The 10-year-old added that she thought 15 was a ‘good age’ to raise it to because that is the age at which ‘you are allowed to go travelling alone and you can start taking responsibility for what you do wrong’. 

Tory MP Sir Robert Neill, chairman of the Justice Select Committee and himself a barrister, told MailOnline that Mr Hill’s remarks ‘reinforce our view that this should be looked at’.  

‘In November last year the Justice Select Committee recommended that the Government should review that age of criminal responsibility,’ he said. 

‘The DPP’s comments reinforce our view that this should be looked at. There are arguments on both sides, but it is a fact that England and Wales have one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in Western Europe, and Scotland doesn’t seem to have a problem with setting it at 12. Max Hill is a hugely experienced prosecutor, and certainly no ‘soft touch’, so his views should be listened to with respect.’

A Government spokesperson said: ‘There are no plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility. It is set at 10 to provide flexibility in addressing criminal behaviour and allows for early intervention to prevent further offending.’

READ  Top 11 Sci-Fi Movies Of The Last Decade

The CPS has been contacted for comment. 

It comes after MPs called on the Government to consider raising the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales, amid fears that too many children are facing adult justice.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) told the Justice Select Committee that ‘the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is inconsistent with accepted international standards’. 

The equalities watchdog made reference to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which found that children’s brains continue to develop and mature past the age of 10 so are ‘unlikely to understand the impact of their actions or to comprehend criminal proceedings’. 

Several child psychologists told the Justice Select Committee in November that children’s brains are not fully formed by the age of 10.

The parliamentary committee, chaired by Sir Robert Neill MP, recommended that the Ministry of Justice review the age of criminal responsibility and ‘report on the implications of raising the age in England and Wales to 12 and to 14’. 

Kids Law podcast host Alma-Constance Denis-Smith asked Mr Hill why the age at which children can be held criminally responsible was 10, calling it 'very young' (stock)

Kids Law podcast host Alma-Constance Denis-Smith asked Mr Hill why the age at which children can be held criminally responsible was 10, calling it ‘very young’ (stock)

Mr Hill, 57, said: 'I agree - we all have a lot of growing up to do still, even when we reach the age of 10.'Everybody recognises that as we all grow up, we all go through the same process, which is that we develop. And that development hasn't finished when you're 10'

Mr Hill, 57, said: ‘I agree – we all have a lot of growing up to do still, even when we reach the age of 10.’Everybody recognises that as we all grow up, we all go through the same process, which is that we develop. And that development hasn’t finished when you’re 10’

The law that would have let James Bulger’s killers off scot-free: Human rights bosses want to raise the UK’s age of criminal responsibility to 14 

Youths suspected of crimes could be spared prosecution under controversial proposals outlined by Britain’s human rights watchdog.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has called on the Government to lift the age of criminal responsibility from ten to 14.

Under the proposals, children in England and Wales could not be arrested and charged for offences until they were ‘significantly’ older.

This would mean that youngsters involved in crimes as serious as murder could not be arrested, charged or dealt with by the courts and would instead have to be managed through the social care system.

The proposals mean ten-year-olds Jon Venables (pictured) and Robert Thompson, who tortured and killed two-year-old James Bulger, in 1993, would have been spared prosecution

The proposals mean ten-year-olds Jon Venables (pictured) and Robert Thompson, who tortured and killed two-year-old James Bulger, in 1993, would have been spared prosecution

The proposals mean ten-year-olds Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who tortured and killed two-year-old James Bulger, in 1993, would have been spared prosecution. They were found guilty that year – making them the youngest convicted murderers in modern British history.

But the EHRC said Britain’s current age of criminal responsibility, which was set at ten in 1963, is lower than in many European countries and ‘inconsistent with accepted international standards’.

MPs want the Government to assess the likely effect this change would have on reducing the number of children in custody and alternative methods of dealing with children below the proposed ages who have committed serious offences. 

READ  WATCH Nigerian Police ask criminal suspect to sing, showcase talent while being paraded (Video)

Dr Pamela Taylor from Royal College of Psychiatrist said that England and Wales is ‘out of sync’ with the rest of the world on this issue.

Dr Alexandra Lewis, chair of the adolescent forensic faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the current age of responsibility was based on the outdated proposition that the ‘most significant period of brain maturation was in the first five or possibly eight years’.

She told MPs: ‘Previously, it was thought that the most significant period of brain maturation was in the first five or possibly eight years.

‘We now know that a second critical period takes place in adolescence and is a very dramatic development of the frontal lobes, which are, essentially, responsible for decision-making, planning, consequential thinking, getting ideas about ourselves and social interaction.’ 

She added that ‘a second critical period takes place in adolescence… so it does not make sense to treat somebody at 10 the same as an adult’.  

MPs were ultimately ‘not persuaded that [the age] should be immediately increased’. but called on the Ministry of Justice to consider the effects of raising the age of criminal responsibility. 

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told the Guardian: ‘The Committee said it is not convinced there is a reason to change the age of criminal responsibility – and we have no plans to do so.’   

Two years ago, the EHRC called on the Government to lift the age of criminal responsibility from ten to 14.

Its proposals would mean children in England and Wales cannot be arrested and charged for offences until they are ‘significantly’ older.

This would mean that youngsters involved in crimes as serious as murder could not be arrested, charged or dealt with by the courts and would instead have to be managed through the social care system.

The proposals mean Venables and Thompson, who tortured and killed James Bulger in 1993, would have been spared prosecution. 

They were found guilty that year – making them the youngest convicted murderers in modern British history.

But the EHRC said Britain’s current age of criminal responsibility, which was set at 10 in 1963, is lower than in many European countries and ‘inconsistent with accepted international standards’.

In a report submitted to the United Nations to review, the watchdog claimed criminalising children at such a young age could have a ‘detrimental impact on their wellbeing and development and risks making them more likely to re-offend as adults’.

David Isaac, former chairman of the commission, said: ‘Increasing the age of criminal responsibility is crucial to stop very young children being exposed to the harmful effects of detention and protect their future.’

The watchdog said the Government should instead introduce ‘therapeutic, welfare-based approaches for dealing with the harmful behaviour of children’.

An MoJ spokesman told the Mail at the time: ‘Younger children who offend are often diverted from the justice system or dealt with out of court.

‘In the last decade, there has been an 86 per cent reduction in the number of under-18-year-olds entering the youth justice system.’  



Source link

Leave a Comment