Youth justice in the UK: children, young people and crime
Youth justice in the UK: children, young people and crime

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Youth justice in the UK: children, young people and crime

2 The age of criminal responsibility

You have already looked at the sometimes blurred boundaries dividing adulthood from childhood. The big question you’ve been building up to is, of course, ‘what is the age of criminal responsibility?’. In other words, at what age can someone be arrested and charged with a crime that will be prosecuted in a criminal court?

This is a cartoon of two children behind bars.
Figure 1 In the future it is possible that prosecuting children in criminal courts may seem as wrong as sending them down coal mines to dig coal.

Activity 2 Old enough to know better?

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes for this activity

Part 1

Try to guess the answer to the following question: What age do you think a young person can be prosecuted in a criminal court in England or Wales for something they may have done wrong? Your answer should be between 5 and 21 years.

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The correct answer is 10 years old.

Part 2

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You may have been wide of the mark, especially if you chose any of the later teenage years. Or perhaps you guessed correctly or had some prior experience that guided you to the correct age. At 10, the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is one of the lowest in the world. As you may also have guessed, there is some variation within the UK, with Scotland opting to raise the age from 8 to 12 in 2019 (you will learn more about this in Session 3). In 2007 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child declared that an age of criminal responsibility below 12 is ‘not acceptable’.

How does this move to raise the age to 12 compare to the range most favoured as revealed in the poll results?

The legal context surrounding children is an important feature of any kind of professional or voluntary practice concerned with their behaviour and wellbeing. That is what you will look at next.


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