Rethinking the Criminal Responsibility of Young People in England
European Journal of Crime, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice (2012) 20, 1, pp. 13-29
Posted: 16 Jan 2015
Date Written: January 15, 2015
The conviction in England of two primary school boys for the attempted rape of an eight year old girl in 2010 once again case raises the issue of how old someone must be before they know they are committing a crime. The two boys were both aged 10 years old at the time of the offence and are the youngest males ever to be prosecuted for rape in England and Wales. They had been accused of repeatedly assaulting the girl in a block of flats, a lift and a bin shed before taking her to a field and raping her in October 2009. During cross-examination via video the girl admitted lying to her mother about the incident and admitted that no rape had occurred. There was no other useful medical evidence, DNA evidence or forensic evidence. Nevertheless based on the evidence of an eight year old girl the two boys were convicted of attempted rape. The presiding Judge, Mr. Justice Saunders, highlighted the need for lessons to be learned from this case. This case raises the question of whether child perpetrators should be treated as adults.
In England and Wales the age of criminal responsibility is set at 10 years. The current law thus assumes all children are sufficiently mature at this age to accept criminal responsibility for their behaviour. This article will consider the question of when is it fair to hold young people criminally responsible and to subject a young person to the rigours of a criminal trial. It will examine the assumption that children mature earlier than in the past and argue that the law needs to recognise that children may not yet be developed enough to understand the wrongfulness of what they do. I will argue that the low age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales runs the risk of children being prosecuted for crimes they are too immature to fully understand. A child of 10 years can know that they are doing something wrong but not appreciate it is criminally wrong and thus not form the requisite intent, or mens rea, to be criminally responsible.
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