Campaigners urge Labour to make age of criminal responsibility central to justice policy

Neil Puffett
Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Raising the age of criminal responsibility and focusing more on early intervention at a local level should form the basis of Labour's new criminal justice policy, according to a campaign group.

Submitting evidence to Labour’s justice policy working group, the Howard League for Penal Reform said that the last Labour administration focused too much on criminal justice processes, from policing targets to offender management.

It is calling on the party to argue the case for an upward shift in the age of criminal responsibility.

The age of criminal responsibility in Scotland was raised from eight to 12 in March last year while in Northern Ireland consideration is being given to a proposal to raise the age from 10 to 12.

With the age of criminal responsibility set at 10, England and Wales have one of the lowest thresholds in Europe.

In May last year one of the country's most senior police officers, who has since retired, suggested the age of criminal responsibility should be treated with more flexibility with greater weight be placed on the maturity of young offenders.

However, the current coalition government has previously dismissed calls for the age to be reviewed.

This is despite the Liberal Democrats having formally adopted raising the age to 14 as party policy.

"A higher age of criminal responsibility would not mean children are ignored if they do wrong; it means that their immaturity is recognised and the response is appropriate," the Howard League’s submission, written by chief executive Frances Crook, stated.

"It is a much more effective system than the one we currently have in England and Wales; for the children, for victims and the community."

In addition to raising the age of criminal responsibility, the Howard League has called for Labour to focus on prevention.

"The underlying causes of local crime are best tackled through investment in public services beyond the criminal justice system, be it in health, education or welfare," Crook said.

"Rediscovering the principle that lasting solutions to crime lie without and not within the criminal justice system should be key to Labour’s renewal of its justice policies in opposition."

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