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:
· No 10 or 11 year old offender has been imprisoned since 2010.
· In the last year for which data is available only 16 10-year-olds and 80 11-year-olds were convicted or cautioned. This compares to 781 young offenders in 2010. Most offences involved arson or violence.
· The last time a 10-year-old child was given a “detention and training order”, sentencing them to between four and 24 months in custody, was in 2016.
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 UK raise its minimum age of criminal responsibility in accordance with the Committee’s general recommendation.
A former Children’s Commissioner, Maggie Atkinson, called for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 12:
“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.”
Some people disagree
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, the approach to dealing with young offenders by way of constructive sentencing measures that are shown to rehabilitate is to be applauded.
How can we help?
If you need specialist advice in relation to any criminal investigation or prosecution, from the initial investigation through to court proceedings, please get in touch. Call John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us help.
Image credit: “Young Offender No.2” by Phillipe Casablanca is licensed under CC BY 2.0.