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#330410 - 16th Jun 2009 7:17pm Can children be criminals?
_jase_
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Can children be criminals?



What is the right age to hold children responsible for their criminal acts? Eight? 10? 14? 18?

With a spate of violent crime being committed by seemingly ever younger people, the question has never been more difficult to answer, or more important.
Plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland from eight to 12 will leave England, Wales and Northern Ireland with the lowest such age in Europe, at just 10.

In Spain it is 16, in Belgium 18. So, should the rest of the UK follow Scotland? Or perhaps raise the age even higher?

At Thames Youth Court in east London, 15 year-old-Germaine (not his real name) pleaded guilty to a robbing a pizza delivery driver. But should he have been in court?

"I think it's a good thing because they will learn that this is what leads you into jail," his mother said.

The Bulger murder

Much of the debate that rages around the age of criminal responsibility is rooted in the 1993 prosecution of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson for the brutal murder of two-year-old James Bulger in Liverpool.

Back then, in addition to the overwhelming national revulsion at the abduction and murder, there was also a heated debate as to whether two boys, aged 10 at the time of the killing, should stand trial for murder.

The case and the haunting, grainy cctv images of the two boys leading the toddler from a shopping centre to his death still resonate powerfully today.

In recent years, however, new scientific evidence has shed further light on the way children's brains develop.

Knowing right from wrong


"There's a very substantial evidence base to show that children aged 10 are not fully mature," said Dr Eileen Vizard, a child psychiatrist with the NSPCC's Child Offender Service.

"They show developmental immaturity in terms of their physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development," she said.

She points to recent evidence on the structure and functioning of young brains which suggests that development continues beyond adolescence and into the mid-20s.

Though children of 10 may know the difference between "big rights and big wrongs", Dr Vizard believes they do not have the capacity to participate fully and fairly in a criminal trial, and that 14 or 15 should be a bare minimum age for criminal responsibility.

Perhaps surprisingly though, Laurence Lee, the solicitor who represented Jon Venables, takes issue with that:

"It's impossible to say that you can't prosecute children of 10 because their brains aren't sufficiently developed. For society's own protection there should be the potential and the possibility of a 10-year-old being prosecuted.

"I think the crime rate would rocket if that sword of Damocles didn't exist over a young defendant's head."

Last year more than 11,000 young people between the ages of 10 and 13 were prosecuted in the criminal courts in England and Wales. In the 14 to 17-year-old category that rose to around 107,000.

In court

At Thames Youth Court, a small 13-year-old boy appeared on a charge of racially aggravated assault.

When aged 12, he had allegedly hit a girl he knew and called her a "Paki". The two lived on the same estate and the claimed injuries were relatively minor.

At a preliminary hearing in court the judge asked the Crown Prosecution Service whether it was really in the public interest that the case proceeded. It showed no inclination to discontinue it.

When he was asked which parts of the proceedings were difficult to follow, the boy replied, "All of it".

His mother said she thought it ridiculous that a full trial take place. She believes children should be dealt with outside court.

"Their parents should be spoken to, they should be warned," she said.

She was angry that following a one or two-day trial in a few months time, her son could be found guilty and would get a criminal record.

Other young people in court that day were there for a variety of assaults, thefts and robberies.

Those who pleaded guilty, or were found guilty, would also get a criminal record.

Norwegian law

In Norway, the age of criminal responsibility is 15 and there is a far more welfare-based approach to the problem of child offending.

Reidar Hjermann, the Norwegian Children's Ombudsman, believes 10 is far too young.

"A child does not choose to commit or not commit a crime," he said. "They do it because they have a difficult life."

Lynne Costello from Mothers Against Murder and Aggression (MAMAA), which supports families whose children have been murdered and provides education programmes for the young, disagrees.

"The kids know the law is soft," she said. "If we raise the age they will be getting younger people to carry their weapons or their drugs.

"We have to tell children 'you have done wrong', and if that means going through the court system that's what we have to do."

Setting the age of criminal responsibility is fantastically difficult. People do not want to demonise children, but worry about a younger generation with greater temptations and looser boundaries.

The government has no plans to raise the current age of 10, but many lawyers and child psychiatrists believe there is a strong case for doing so.

Law In Action will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 16 June at 1600 GMT. You can listen to the programme for seven days afterwards via the BBC iPlayer , or download the free podcast .

THE BBC

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#330415 - 16th Jun 2009 7:24pm Re: Can children be criminals? [Re: ]
MattLFC Offline
Wiki Master

Registered: 14th Aug 2004
Posts: 22315
Loc: Moreton/Beirut/Mobile
Once they hit 13, they are imho, well aware of their actions. I know for sure I knew the difference between right and wrong, it's common sense more than anything.

Teenager = young adult nowadays. They all want to act and behave like young adults, want to be treated like youg adults, and thus should take responsibility like young adults.

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#330421 - 16th Jun 2009 7:37pm Re: Can children be criminals? [Re: MattLFC]
Softy_Southerner Offline

Forum Guardian

Registered: 2nd May 2008
Posts: 4090
Loc: Back in Devon
Either the child or the parents are responsible for the actions of the child.
If the law considers that the child is too young to be in the dock then the parents should appear.
We cannot say that the child is too young therefore no one is responsible - IMHO.
If the parent has to answer for their child's actions they may be inclined to take an interest in their whereabouts.
Maybe I'm over simplifying it but it makes sense to me.


Edited by Softy_Southerner (16th Jun 2009 7:38pm)

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#331793 - 24th Jun 2009 2:00pm Re: Can children be criminals? [Re: Softy_Southerner]
Jubbly Offline
Member

Registered: 19th Jan 2009
Posts: 86
Loc: Merseyside
Originally Posted By: Softy_Southerner
Either the child or the parents are responsible for the actions of the child.
If the law considers that the child is too young to be in the dock then the parents should appear.
We cannot say that the child is too young therefore no one is responsible - IMHO.
If the parent has to answer for their child's actions they may be inclined to take an interest in their whereabouts.
Maybe I'm over simplifying it but it makes sense to me.


I totally agree. It was drilled into us as kids that the minute we stepped out of the front door we were representative of the good family we came from. It was made clear that Anything we did to shame the family would be punished. Irrespective of the law, incidentally !

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#331800 - 24th Jun 2009 3:09pm Re: Can children be criminals? [Re: Jubbly]
ponytail Offline
Smartchild

Registered: 31st Dec 2008
Posts: 575
Loc: wirral
I think children can play the system, the adults and the social workers. In Scotland children under 16 are dealt with via childrens' hearings and not in open court, unless it is in the public's interest.

If they choose to accept the child is responsible at 12 then they have neglected the precident:- Mary Bell was 11 when she was given a life sentence in 1968 after being found guilty of the manslaughter of four-year-old Martin Brown, and Brian Howe, 3, on the grounds of diminished responsibility.


As mentioned, age was discussed in Scotland and that there should be an absolute bar against prosecuting children under the age of 12. Although opinion on consultation was divided, the majority of those responding favoured a bar. A bar at this age would be consistent with the requirements of the European Convention of Human Rights. 12 is also the age at which a child is presumed to have sufficient maturity and understanding for many civil law purposes, including participating in civil court proceedings.

A children's hearing should be able to deal with all children who commit offences even if they are too young to be prosecuted. At present a child under 8 is presumed not to be guilty of any offence and it has been held (Merrin v S 1987 SLT 193) that such a child cannot be referred to a hearing on the ground of having committed an offence.

I do not think Scotland will differ from England - we can always adhere to the requirements of the European Convention of Human Rights, stating 12 as the age of responsibility. This legislation will ultimately win in our law courts. Although it would be appropriate for us to set our own age as we see fit.

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#331824 - 24th Jun 2009 9:38pm Re: Can children be criminals? [Re: ponytail]
diggingdeeper Offline

Wiki Guardian

Registered: 9th Jul 2008
Posts: 9548
Loc: Birkenhead
Ignoring the few hardcore kids, there are many that need some sort threat in place to discourage them from doing wrong. Kids like many adults think that a victimless crime os ok, but the child is not capable of foreseeing what is victimless - how many times do you here statements like "its ok it will be insured" or "it didn't really hurt him".

Parents have no longer the power to be responsible for their kids, they aren't allowed to smack, they are not allowed to lock children in rooms etc etc and the kids know it! If a child walks out the house and commits a crime, how is it fair that the parent is responsible.

Kids should be responsible for their actions, it should be up to some judicial system to decide punishment on individual basis. Record should be wiped when they leave school but reinstated on first crime.

If kids aren't resposible it won't be long before you have older kids running their own private armies of crime-exempt soldiers ... then what?
_________________________
In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act. George Orwell

When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser. Socrates

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#331833 - 24th Jun 2009 9:53pm Re: Can children be criminals? [Re: diggingdeeper]
jimbob Offline

Forum Addict

Registered: 26th Nov 2008
Posts: 1530
Loc: Birkenhead
The do- gooders of this world are blinkered to the problems that they have created. In the 40s and 50s if you did wrong at school you got the cane, if do did wrong in the street a neighbour dragged to to your parents and you got belted. there where still a few bad lads but in general most kids respected there elders. Respect and knowing if you did wrong and got caught you where punished kept you in line.
_________________________
Ships that pass in the night, seldom seen and soon forgoten

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#331844 - 24th Jun 2009 10:25pm Re: Can children be criminals? [Re: jimbob]
diggingdeeper Offline

Wiki Guardian

Registered: 9th Jul 2008
Posts: 9548
Loc: Birkenhead
If you got the cane at school, you got belted when you got home!

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#331848 - 24th Jun 2009 10:37pm Re: Can children be criminals? [Re: jimbob]
kimpri Offline

Forum Guardian

Registered: 29th Oct 2008
Posts: 3552
Loc: birkenhead
i can remember getting a clip round the ear of the local beat bobby for smoking mid 60s and then he took me home told me mum ouch that's for bringing a policeman to the door.respect and manners cost nothing...
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Does your vacuum suck? Get a Dyson!!



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#331861 - 25th Jun 2009 12:00am Re: Can children be criminals? [Re: diggingdeeper]
MattLFC Offline
Wiki Master

Registered: 14th Aug 2004
Posts: 22315
Loc: Moreton/Beirut/Mobile
Originally Posted By: diggingdeeper
If you got the cane at school, you got belted when you got home!

Yeah, my uncle confessed to recieving the cane to my grandad... on his deathbead. Seriously, he was in his final couple of days having lost the fight to cancer, and he confessed that to my grandad.

He said he had been petrified of revealing it when he was younger, cos he'd get a clip round the ear (funnily enough, my grandad was the local bobby) and would have felt ashamed...

How times and social attitudes change eh!

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