Currently, in the UK, the age of criminal responsibility is 10 years old. This is much higher than in other European nations, where the age is typically 13 to 14 years of age.
This age limit is based on a child`s ability to know what is right or wrong, therefore in the UK, any child aged below 10 years old can commit a crime, which is recorded, but they cannot be held responsible because of their age.
There are many children in the UK who have reached the age of 10 years and by the time they are 13 or 14 years of age, they may have already received a criminal record through the courts, whereas if they were a child living in many European countries, by the same age, they are not even regarded as being old enough to know what they were doing is wrong.
This age limit has nothing to do with mental capacity in terms of learning difficulties or some other form of mental health, it is simply based on the child`s brain not having developed enough to know fully what they were doing was criminal.
Knowing right from wrong and criminal are distinctly different things, where many children who commit crime probably realise that they are doing something wrong, but their understanding about the `wrong` being criminal is the relevant part.
In the UK, where children do commit crime, they are interviewed about it in the same way as adults in many ways, however, the decision about what should happen to them is in the hands of the Youth Offending Team (YOT), who consist of groups of professional workers, including the police, education and social services.
YOT will look at the child`s background (home) education and any social needs as well as the crime they have committed. The seriousness of the crime is clearly a very important factor in this.
Once the background has been discussed, views from the members of YOT are shared and a decision on what appropriate action is made.
This decision is largely based on government guidelines which ensures that a common matrix is followed to achieve consistency in all areas. It also eliminates any bias.
The main function of YOT is to keep children way from the criminal justice system; that is to say they will find ways of supporting children in preference to them receiving a caution or go to court.
Once a young person has been cautioned or convicted through the court, it will have serious implications for their future lives, where they may be prevented from attending certain educations establishments, travel or getting a job because of a criminal record. These are all things which would soon impact a child should they receive a record at, say 14 years old.
These potential barriers will make it hard for someone to progress and they are more likely to re-offend, where they may see little prospect, so it is correct that the reasons why they offend are thoroughly examined and the correct support is put in place for them.
There is some thinking in the UK that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised in line with many other European nations and there may be some point in this argument, since if the current aim in the UK through they YOT is to keep young persons away from the criminal justice system and to support them, then why not raise the age barrier?
Any parent who has a child who does commit a crime will be quick to give reasons why they have done it, often taking about difficulties they face and the lack of support they have received.
Conversely, any person who has been a victim of a crime where a child is involved, will view the YOT as being `soft` and will usually look for a more robust approach.
These differences in views are understandable depending on which side of the fence you are sitting, however, whatever your views, there is probably a good reason to review the current age of criminal responsibility since there has been a significant shift in the way we approach youth crime and many support services on offer, which were not there when the age limits were considered.