Age of criminal responsibility 'too low', experts say

 
Scan of a brain Some parts of the brain are not fully mature "until at least the age of 20"

Related Stories

Advances in neuroscience suggest the age of criminal responsibility - 10 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - might be too low, according to a study.

The Royal Society report considers areas where recent scientific findings could have an impact on the law.

At the age of 10 parts of the brain connected with decision-making and judgement are still developing, the study says.

But it says there are limits to how the science can be used in court.

Professor Nicholas Mackintosh, who chaired the working group that compiled the study, said: "There's now incontrovertible evidence that the brain continues to develop throughout adolescence."

He said some regions of the brain - including parts responsible for decision-making and impulse control - are not fully mature "until at least the age of 20".

"Now that clearly has some implications for how adolescents behave," he said.

The report notes the concern of some neuroscientists that the current age of criminal responsibility in the UK is set too low. In most European countries it is far higher - 18 in Belgium and 16 in Spain.

It also suggests that because of differences between individuals a cut-off age may not be justifiable.

'Fresh look needed'

Professor Mackintosh said it was for policy makers to decide on altering the age of responsibility, but the changing science meant it should at least be reviewed.

He said: "I think the Royal Society is in a position to present the scientific evidence - other people need to draw conclusions from it.

"But the extent to which the scientific evidence wasn't well known 10, 15 years ago, then it suggests that things do need looking at again."

The study identifies areas where expectations of what neuroscience can deliver in courts should be handled with caution.

Claims that criminals can be identified by imaging their brains, or that there could be a gene for psychopathy are "wide of the mark", it says.

In Scotland children cannot be convicted until they are 12. In Northern Ireland, a review of the youth justice system recommends increasing the age to 12.

Calls from England's children's commissioner to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 were rejected by the government in in March 2010.

At the time, Maggie Atkinson said most criminals under 12 did not fully understand their actions.

She also said civilised society should recognise that children who commit offences needed to be treated differently from adult criminals.

 

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 106.

    93.Alan T
    But this BBC story is strangely silent on HOW underdeveloped kids brains are. Are they 95% developed or...? I wonder if the research quantifies?
    Of course this could be a GAGGAH (Get a Grant by Grabbing a Headline) exercise. It has the hallmarks....
    The Royal Society arent in need of grants, maybe you should try reading the report first?

    Report this comment (Comment number 93)

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 105.

    97.salty "...it is attitudes like yours that are part of the problems."

    If a child commits assault, vandalism etc then surely he/she or the parent should accept criminal responsibility. How is this attitude part of the problem? If more was done to discourage such "low level" crimes, then the vast majority of children will benefit. It is only a small minority of children that commit crime.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 104.

    I am not advocating raising or even lowering the age of criminal responsibility, but something that I have not seen any comments take into account is the age a person can be expected to understand what is happening and why - not whether they know right from wrong. But whether they are old enough to understand criminal and court proceedings - the very foundation of a fair judicial system

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 103.

    @76.sloaneegypt
    Marry @16 - responsible for another and possibly many more.
    Army @16 - legally defend and kill if necessary.
    Drive @17 - You now have a weapon in your care in everyday life.
    Drink @18 - Responsible even with impaired judgement.
    Vote @18 - Able to differentiate subtle nuances of lie-telling.
    So, yes, able to understand big right from big wrong at age 10.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 102.

    95. hal321
    >>>I've asked this question twice now...What age should criminal responsibility begin? 9, 8, 7, 6? Or do you want to see 3 year olds dragged through the courts?

    I would say set the age at 16, but legislate that anyone UNDER that age should be quickly assessed & face prosecution if they know right from wrong. If they DON'T, then the offence should be charged to their parents or guardian

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 101.

    More pinko-liberal twaddle, more pathetic excuses for aberrant thugs and scum from bleeding-heart lefties.
    Listen, your permissive society experiment is a busted flush.
    Instead of dreaming up ever more sickening nonsense, admit it, you got it wrong. Some folk are just born bad, you can't make them better, you can only control them.
    And those now in charge have forgotten how to.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 100.

    I was in the company of a 9 year old at the weekend who certainly knows right from wrong but chooses to behave in such a way that he appears thick. He takes pleasure in physically restraining his younger brother and thinks if he hurts him its funny and worst of all OK. When he was asked to stop his reponse is not printable but worst of all his parents did nothing to stop him. Must be OK then?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 99.

    why is it that most of these problem children have a parent or parents on benefits then
    the councils put them all in the same areas of a city
    what do you end up with ''gangs of them'' running around causing grief
    the authoritys need to take some blame
    as long as they do not live near the people in power all is well i guess

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 98.

    You will struggle in this day and age to find a 10 year old who does not know what his 'rights' are. It's time they also learned that you can't have your cake and eat it too and play the age card when it suits them or their feckless parents come to that. We ignore this burgeoning trend of untouchable juveniles at our peril.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 97.

    88.Marjorie Dawes
    If you want your kids to be able to commit vandalism, assault etc without you or them facing criminal responsibility, please bring them up in a different country.

    I dont think anyone wants their kids brought up to do such things, but it is attitudes like yours that are part of the problems. We have fantastic youngsters in this country and we should do more for them.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 96.

    Humans learn from an early age.

    They learn what is acceptable behaviour & right & wrong, even if/when they have useless parents.

    A human aged 10, will know it is wrong to damage, steal, harm/hurt rape & murder & sell drugs & cause sicial mayhem.

    It seems to me that once again the Hug Hitler PC muppets look for any excuse to excuse abhorant/criminal behaviour of humans.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 95.

    78.LabourBrokeBritain
    21 Minutes ago

    I've asked this question twice now, and NO-ONE has answered, so perhaps you might

    What age should criminal responsibility begin? 9, 8, 7, 6? Or do you want to see 3 year olds dragged through the courts?

    Just interested to see what number you pick, and on what basis you choose that number. You seem quick to dismiss scientific research.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 94.

    How about those criminals I mean adults who gets comfortable hospitalization and care on grounds of insanity courtesy legal
    loopholes. How about the age of such hooligans?

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 93.

    77. Lemog
    >>>I am not buying this as an excuse for 10 year olds not knowing right from wrong.

    Yes, they DO know at 10, most a great deal earlier.

    But this BBC story is strangely silent on HOW underdeveloped kids brains are. Are they 95% developed or...? I wonder if the research quantifies?

    Of course this could be a GAGGAH (Get a Grant by Grabbing a Headline) exercise. It has the hallmarks....

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 92.

    80 Nomad:

    Where I live there has been a fortune spent on facilities for 'youths'. Skate parks, public parks, youth centres, playgrounds, basketball courts... you name it.

    They are promptly vandalised and end up being closed down.

    The problem is parents who only had their kids for the child benefit and a free council flat. No real interest... then 14 years later, the cycle perpetuates...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 91.

    Add your comment...humm i am sure that i knew what was right and wrong when i was 10, perhaps because i had a good up bringing with good hardworking parents, but this does not seem to be the norm these days. it as it seem to me those that should breed dont as they are busy establishing careers and those that shouldn't do, is there any possibility of a fit to parent test?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 90.

    I don't believe the age is too low . . . provided the sanctions applied are aimed at re-educating and realigning the child's sense of reason. On many occasions, the child is a victim too - of bad parenting/poor role models - and removing them from that environment, combined with adjusting their sense of values, might just turn them into a being a good citizen.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 89.

    most 10 years olds that are little thugs
    are not intelligent enough to be stupid

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 88.

    76.sloaneegypt "Yet at 10yrs you are responsible for your criminal actions. A wonder our kids are so mixed up? kids are 3rd rate citizens in this country. Our attitude needs to change."

    If you want your kids to be able to commit vandalism, assault etc without you or them facing criminal responsibility, please bring them up in a different country.

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 87.

    I would be in favour of raising the age to 12 if the parents were held responsible for criminal acts below that age.

 

Page 9 of 14

 

More UK stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.