Children aged 10 are able to tell the difference between right and wrong and MoJ have no plans to raise age of criminal responsibility

young children in justice

The Government today said there are no plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility after the head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) raised debate over whether 10 is too 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.’

However, the Ministry of Justice 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’. 

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. 

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.’

The CPS refuted suggestions that Mr Hill had called for the age to be raised, with a spokesperson calling the claims ‘misleading’. 

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. 

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.
  • 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. 

This article first appeared in Daily Mail

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