Criminal responsibility age ‘too low’

By Rebecca Burns

The country's leading barrister has spoken out against the minimum age of criminal responsibility, saying a child of ten cannot appreciate what is "criminally wrong".

Paul Mendelle QC, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, pointed out the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act gives the UK "almost the lowest age of criminal responsibility in Europe and I suspect one of the lowest in the world". The Act makes a child legally responsible for their actions from the age of ten and allows them to be tried in court.

Mr Mendelle's comments come after the conviction of two ten year old boys for the attempted rape of an eight year-old-girl.

But the barrister questioned whether all children would understand the implications of their actions.

"Ten is awfully young. A child of ten can know its doing something wrong and not always appreciate it is criminally wrong," he told the Telegraph.

"Imagine a case where a couple of eleven years olds are accused of committing a sexual crime with each other.

"The eleven year olds may know that what they are doing is wrong, naughty, seriously naughty. But do they know that it's a crime? For which people can go to prison, lose their liberty?"

The Ministry of Justice spoke out against Mr Mendelle's comments.

"The government believes that children are old enough to differentiate between bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing at age 10," a spokesperson said

"Setting the age of criminal responsibility at age ten allows front line services to intervene early and robustly, preventing further offending and helping young people develop a sense of personal responsibility for their behaviour."

The barrister conceded that, although he recommended the minimum age of criminal responsibility of 14, the system required a degree of flexibility "because we have all had experience of kids 15, 14, 13 who are incredibly streetwise."