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Increasing the Age of Criminal Responsibility in the United Kingdom

Essay to Mark Hendrick, MP
House of Commons

Dear Mr Hendrick:

I am writing to you today to address a concerning topic of debate amongst developmental psychologists as well as many psychology students in England. The topic that causes such alarm and rise for action is the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) that England holds at ten years old. The English government is unjustly punishing its nation’s children for actions they cannot possibly be held accountable for. I write ‘nation’s children’ because they are just that, children, and as such do not understand the severity of the consequences to certain criminal actions they partake in.

∫ Photo credit:  Judge and Juvie:  10 year old criminals:  Time to raise the age?

∫ Photo credit: Judge and Juvie: 10 year old criminals: Time to raise the age?

At ten years of age, children’s brains are still growing. According to a report released by the Royal Society in 2011, the brain of a 10-year-old child is under developed to that of an adult, particularly in the areas connected with decision-making and judgement (Hoskins, 2013). Similarly, additional psychological studies have shown that children at ten years of age cannot reliably be trusted to make correct moral decisions, and also do not fully understand the reality of consequences that result from certain actions (2013). Brain development for the ten year old child is at a stage when logical and mature thinking is just beginning to conceptualize (Lee, 2014). Lack of self-confidence and susceptibility to peer pressure at this age are major psychological factors that could ultimately lead to criminal behaviour induced by peers and groupthink (2014). Because of such findings and public knowledge of the human brain in the field of psychological research, there exists great concern that the age of criminal responsibility in the UK is unjustifiably low given how slowly the brains of children mature (Couchman, 2012).

Children who lack appropriate guidance and adequate role models in their life can only be expected to make mistakes and fool around in criminal activity. Baroness Corston from the House of Lords said herself: “If (children) have been taught that violence is the answer to problems, drugs are a useful crutch and stealing is acceptable, we cannot expect these young children to behave differently” (Doyle, 2012). Similarly, Justice Minister for Northern Ireland, David Ford, spoke out against the minimum age of criminal responsibility: “The current age of ten is too young for children to truly understand the consequences of their actions or to be dealt with in the criminal justice system. As a society we must have better ways of dealing with the tiny number of very young children who offend and who are more in need of protection than punishment” (Wright, 2012). It is not punishment what these delinquent youths deserve but help and proper guidance.

∫ Photo credit: Nick David/Taxi/Getty Images

∫ Photo credit: Nick David/Taxi/Getty Images

Guidance and forms of rehabilitation are the solution to youth delinquency in children. At such a young age, locking a child up in a delinquency centre will not adequately yield the beneficial results that the government system is expecting. In addition, this process is unreasonably expensive. Annually, it costs roughly £100,000 to simply keep one young person in custody (Torney, 2011). And even so, with all of this ‘support’ paid for to fix the problem, statistics show that 70% of all young people discharged from custody will go on to reoffend (2011). Basically, these findings illustrate that locking up and punishing a child for crime will not teach them a worthwhile lesson. The solution for these children is to educate them why they are doing wrong, how to practice impulse control and productive ways to get on with their lives.

And so, if the English government were to increase the age of criminal responsibility to something higher than ten years, what age should it be? Throughout Europe, most countries (twenty out of the twenty-eight that make up the European Union) have the age of responsibility beginning somewhere from fourteen to sixteen (Bunting, 2013). Perhaps this is because a fourteen year old would at least be considered a teenager, whereas a ten year old is still qualified as a child. Compared to a child of ten years, a fourteen year old possesses a vastly superior ability to tell right from wrong in a given situation. In 2008, the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child urged the UK to redefine and raise the age of criminal responsibility to comply with international standards of justice (Wright, 2012). Additionally, the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child publicly announced that “a minimum age of criminal responsibility below the age of 12 years is considered not to be internationally acceptable” (2012).

For these reasons, I believe it is unjust for the English government to have the minimum age of criminal responsibility set at ten years of age. To demand the same punishment and treatment for a ten year old delinquent as that of an adult criminal is a fundamental violation of children’s rights. To label these children as “criminals” on an equal footing with adults being tried for the same crime is a treatment children do not rightfully deserve. As parents and citizens of this country invested in its future, we must speak up for these misunderstood children and provide for them what they really need: rehabilitation and education. Please vote for an increase to the current minimum age of criminal responsibility before the House.

References

1. Couchman, H. Raise the Age of Criminal Responsibility from 10 Years Old to at Least 12 Years Old. (2014, Feb). Retrieved from 38 degrees.

2.  Bunting, D. Age of Consent vs Age of Criminal Responsibility. (2013, Aug 9). Retrieved from Dan Bunting WordPress – Age of Consent vs Age of Criminal Responsibility

3.  Doyle, J. Crime Age Should Be Raise from 10 to 14 to Protect Children, say MPs. (2012, March 7). Retrieved from Mail Online.

4.  Hoskins, Q. Should the Age of Criminal Responsibility Be Raised? (2013, Jan 3). Retrieved from The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs.

5.  Lee, K. 10-Year-Old Children Development: Cognitive Development. (2014). Retrieved from About Parenting.

6.  Torney, K. Serious Concerns Raised as Children Criminalised at 10. (2011, May 8). Retrieved from The Detail.

7.  Wright, P. 10 Year-Old Criminals: Time to Raise the Age? (2012, Nov 13). Retrieved from Judge and Juvie.


Nicole Kline

Nicole Kline

Nicole Kline is a writer and studying psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK.


3 replies »

  1. I found this blog letter quite fascinating. As I’m relating it to how my 8 year old sees his world. He keeps asking me when he can be left alone at home, babysit his brother, and play the new Call of Duty video game. My response is always “we’ll discuss it when you’re older.”He says “when?”And I reply “when you’re 10 or 12.”After reading this the answer will be 12, no matter what his friends are playing or watching at the age of 8.

    Liked by 2 people

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