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"

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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.

 

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 266.

    I was a soldier at the age of 15 years and we all knew what was criminal and what was not. Where scientists go astray is where they believe they have found information that suggests immaturity until twenty years of age - without accepting the intelligence of individuals and their capacity for destruction - something well within the understanding of all normal children and teenagers.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 265.

    If at 10 your child does not know right from wrong then you are an unfit parent.
    +
    That's a criticism of adults not children.
    As an ex Met Police Officer who spent a career operational in Inner London my opinion for what it's worth is that while young kids know that something is wrong they don't really associate with the immediate action and it's consequences in the same way as adults.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 264.

    @inchindown2, the criminal age of responsibility has a sustantial effect on crime levels and prison rates in every country.GB has one of the lowest CARs in Western Europe and THE highest prison rate.Criminalising children at 10, rather than dealing their wrongdoing through constructive,educative and restorative means, means that they may never have the empathy or reasoning to DO right from wrong.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 263.

    If governments are genuine in understanding crime, they only need to look in mirror!

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 262.

    It is very simple. Birch the little blighters - abit of sharp justice will stop many of them reoffending and ultimately do them a power of good. Alot more good than hugging them as the left suggest.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 261.

    We have 12 yr olds on the streets with knives. The government can say what it wants to about harsher punishments for knife carriers, but until there's motivation for the parents to take more responsibility for their kids there's nothing stopping the young people carrying weapons.

    Maybe parents/guardians should be held partially accountable for any crimes their child commits

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 260.

    "259.Antinyx

    I am appalled that a 10 year old could be considered to be a criminal. In the USA the age is 18, and even that is probably too young for for the late bloomers. "

    From what I see on TV and read, there is a huge difference between the US and UK/Europe how criminals are dealt with once incarcerated. And that's just the adults! I don't think you are comparing like with like.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 259.

    I am appalled that a 10 year old could be considered to be a criminal. In the USA the age is 18, and even that is probably too young for for the late bloomers. That isn't to say that bad behavior should be ignored, but it needs to be dealt with in an educational/therapeutic way. The criminal system is totally inappropriate for a child.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 258.

    Having had the dubious pleasure of living on a sink estate, I have to say I disagree. The little wotsit's I got put away were completely aware of what they could and couldn't do, and whether it was right or wrong. It seems to me that those who are 'bad lads' know exactly what they are doing. That said there are plenty of less street-wise kids who are more naive.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 257.

    Children only know the "right and wrong" that their parents teach them. There is provision in law to try a child as an adult on an individual basis. It is just laziness (and fear of the media) on the part of the CPS and the courts to not have to make these decisions and rather just "follow orders". This is only possible because tabloids can print lies and pervert justice with impunity

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 256.

    knowing right from wrong is different from criminal responsibility

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 255.

    251 Total Marxist Rubbish

    As usual the truth is assaulted and kicked to the ground by the marxist mugger! Facts lie bleeding in the street & logic slumps in the gutter

    Labour may have lowered the age of criminal responsibility (a mere sop to the masses) but all their other policies caused criminality to soar, prison sentences to plummet in length, the courts & police rendered powerless!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 254.

    //kennydbt
    As a large number of so call adult still do not know what is right from wrong how can kids know it. At the age of ten I know right from wrong. .... Then send the mom and dad to jail. Or publicly flog them. Stop making reason to let them off. It make me sick. I come from a broken home and a bad upbringing I not been to jail// or spelling lessons?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 253.

    Peter Buck as others have perhaps said, the children who murdered James Bulger were 10. I believe they were responsible for there own actions & needed proper sentencing. What normal 10 year old does what they did?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 252.

    We've been gradually lowering the age of criminal responsibility over the last 3 decades until we now have the lowest age in Europe and correspondingly some of the highest crime rates. Until something is done about the media campaign against "feral kids" this is unlikely to change and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 251.

    "nieuw divil
    we've had 13 yrs of Labour encouraging criminality "

    I realise that you prefer to be a stranger to the facts, but was it not Labour that lowered the age of responsibility in England to 10? It was higher (13-14?) before 1997 as the prosecution of the Bulger murderers had to show they were criminally responsible even though they were below the then age of responsibility.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 250.

    As a large number of so call adult still do not know what is right from wrong how can kids know it. At the age of ten I know right from wrong. Any kids under the age of ten breaking the law. Then send the mom and dad to jail. Or publicly flog them. Stop making reason to let them off. It make me sick. I come from a broken home and a bad upbringing I not been to jail

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 249.

    hal There's a perfectly reasonable line already set in the sand at 10 years old. There is no evidence of a good reason to change this.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 248.

    According to the "experts" the murderers of James Patrick Bulger weren't criminally responsible for what they did? The experts proposals are too obscene to even contemplate. Explain why this is to the many parents who've lost children to these "misunderstood wee imps"!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 247.

    If you're old enough to commit the crime you're old enough to take the punishment!

    Let's have no more of this slack jawed nonsense - we've had 13 yrs of Labour encouraging criminality and it's about time the gov't put some justice back into the legal system!

 

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