Senior police officer questions age of criminal responsibility

Neil Puffett
Thursday, May 19, 2011

One of the country's most senior police officers has suggested the age of criminal responsibility should be treated with more flexibility and greater weight be placed on the maturity of young offenders.

IMcPherson: rigid approach to age of criminal responsibility 'foolish' Image: Jason Bye
IMcPherson: rigid approach to age of criminal responsibility 'foolish' Image: Jason Bye

Ian McPherson, assistant commissioner at the Met Police and the Association of Chief Police Officer's lead on children and young people, said he does not believe there are "absolutes" in the debate around when young people should be liable for prosecution.

"To say that at the age of 10 you suddenly become responsible as an individual seems to me a bit foolish," he said speaking at the Addressing Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour conference in London today (Thursday).

At 10, the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is among the lowest in Europe. The government has said it has no plans to review the age in England and Wales but in March the Liberal Democrat party passed a motion at its Spring conference calling for the age to be raised to 14. The party also agreed it wanted to see children put before panels of specially trained experts who would have the power to impose a range of measures.

Speaking today, McPherson said a judgement should be made as to whether a child has the capacity to be aware of and responsible for their actions.

"I think it is more around the individual," he said. "It seems to me people mature at different rates and some are more intelligent than others – I don’t think it’s about an absolute."

Also speaking at the conference John Drew, chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, said it is necessary to "think long and hard" about pre-court disposals when young children come into contact with the criminal justice system.

The issue of the age of criminal responsibility has long been controversial, with heated debate surrounding cases such as the murder of toddler Jamie Bulger in 1993 by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, then both aged 10.

In March last year children’s commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson, was forced to clarify comments made in an interview during which she suggested that Bulger's killers should not have been tried in an adult court, after the victim’s mother called for her to be sacked.

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