New Approach to the Youngest Offenders

Data published following a freedom of information request shows a remarkable shift in the way in which the youngest and most vulnerable offenders are dealt with.

The data reveals:



Calls to increase the age of criminal responsibility

The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales remains at 10 years. Responding to the figures, the Howard League for Penal Reform said:

“The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales should be raised. If a young child is in trouble or behaving in a concerning way, the priority should be to consider their welfare and understand the reasons why this is happening. It is better to do this outside the criminal justice system, so that the child can be given the support they need without being held back in life by a criminal record.”

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly expressed the view that the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be 12 years. In 2008 the Committee recommended that the United Kingdom should raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in accordance with the Committee’s general recommendation.

A former Children’s Commissioner, Maggie Atkinson, has also called for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 12 years:

“The age of criminal responsibility in this country is ten – that’s too low, it should certainly be moved up to 12. In some European countries it’s 14. People may be offenders but they are also children. Even the most hardened of youngsters who have committed some very difficult crimes are not beyond being frightened.”

Not all people agree, however. James Bulger’s mother Denise Fergus criticised these comments:

“This woman owes James and me an apology for her twisted and insensitive comments. Then she should resign or be sacked. To say that his killers should not have been tried in an adult court is stupid. They committed an adult crime – a coldblooded murder that was planned and premeditated – and they were tried accordingly.”

To date, no government has shown any enthusiasm for raising the age of criminal responsibility. However, in most cases, an approach to dealing with young offenders by way of constructive sentencing measures that are shown to rehabilitate is to be applauded.


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