CHILD CRIMINALS: Calls to increase the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12
Calls have been made in Parliament to increase the age of of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12.
It came as peers continued their detailed scrutiny of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which contains wide-ranging measures aimed at overhauling the criminal justice system.
Speaking at Westminster, former High Court judge and independent crossbencher Baroness Butler-Sloss said: “I feel very strongly about the issue of the age of responsibility of children.”
She said on first raising it back in 2006 the then Labour government “dismissed it out of hand”.
A family judge for 35 years, she said: “I care about children. In 2006, what is now known about young children and the maturation of their brains was not particularly well known then, but a great deal of evidence has now come forward.”
She added: “We only have to look at what is happening across Europe. Scotland has raised the age to 12, the age of responsibility across Europe is either 12, or in more places it is 14. We remain at 10.
“I think it is probably because successive governments … are afraid of what the public will say.”
Referring to the “appalling” 1993 killing of James Bulger by 10-year-olds Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, Lady Butler-Sloss highlighted a coupon campaign by a newspaper at the time calling for the pair to be jailed for the rest of their lives which was backed by 84,000 people.
She added: “The world has moved on, but the Government has not. The Government appears to have shut its ears to what is so blindingly obvious now.
“I would ask the Government just to open their ears a little, at least to look at the research and … do what is the obvious, which is to raise the age to 12.”
Former Supreme Court justice Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood said a child branded a criminal will come to see themselves as that and behave accordingly.
He said: “The reasons for raising the age – goodness knows by the modest enough margin of two years, 10 to 12 – are cumulative and compelling. If there is any objection to this amendment, it’s that it doesn’t go far enough.”
Lord Brown added: “A 10-year-old’s mental capacities are not comparable to those of an older adolescent or adult.
“Criminalising these youngsters while they are still developing their identities and their character, growing socially and emotionally, is deeply damaging to their self-esteem and their future prospects.
“Brand a child 10 or 11 a criminal and that is how he will come to see and identify himself, and so in future he will behave.
“The subsequent criminal records of those who have been thus branded bear this out. Their records attest to it.”
He added: “The public won’t suffer if in future they are recognised as the children they are who have done something dreadfully wrong, rather than wicked criminals.
“On the contrary, the public will benefit. These children are more likely to lead law-abiding lives in future if at last we change our system.
“It is high time to banish the long shadow of the tragic Bulger case, which alas is still cast and obscures the realities of the concepts of this issue.”
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