Age of criminal responsibility must be raised says Barnardo's

THE criminal age of responsibility should be raised from 10 to 12, with the exception of the most serious offences, according to the head of a leading children's charity.

Martin Narey, the chief executive of Barnardo's and former director general of the Prison Service, said criminalising young children increased their chances of reoffending.

He said there were cheaper and more effective ways of dealing with early criminality such as family intervention programmes designed to make youngsters face up to the consequences of their actions.

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In a report published today called From Playground to Prison: The Case for Reviewing the Age of Criminal Responsibility, Barnardo's calls on the Government to lift the age of criminal responsibility except in cases of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, rape and aggravated sexual assault.

It is thought that even if the Barnardo's proposals were accepted by the Government, acts such as those perpetrated by two young brothers who attacked two other young boys in Edlington, near Doncaster in April 2009, would still lead to prosecution.

The Edlington attackers, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were given an indeteminate sentence by Mr Justice Keith in January this year after they admitted a range of offences, including serious sexual crimes.

They were 10 and 11 at the time of the attacks but had turned 11 and 12 respectively by the time their case came to court for sentencing.

Mr Narey said: "It is crucial that those 10 and 11-year-olds who commit the most grave crimes are taken to court.

"Yet there is nothing to be gained from criminalising very young children for less serious offences and putting them through a court process they can barely fathom.

"In fact the repercussions are a heightened chance of further offending, more victims and unnecessary cost to the taxpayer.

"This is not to suggest that these children should not face up to the consequences of their bad behaviour. There are a range of meaningful and effective interventions, involving the whole family, which can and should be employed."

Barnardo's figures show that in 2008, 5,671 children aged 10 and 11 received a "youth justice disposal", which means a custodial or community sentence, pre-court reprimand or final warning.

Only three of those children were placed in custody. The vast majority, 5,007, were given a reprimand or final warning.

More than 650 were convicted in the courts for crimes not considered serious enough to warrant custody.

Barnardo's said despite these children committing low-level crimes, once they entered the justice system they were more likely to reoffend.

The charity estimates almost 6m would have been saved in court appearances alone in 2008 if the Government had taken other approaches to tackling child crime.

Evaluation of family intervention projects showed a 64 per cent reduction in anti-social behaviour, a 58 per cent drop in truancy, exclusions and bad behaviour at school, 61 per cent fewer incidences of domestic violence, a 45 per cent reduction in substance misuse and a 42 per cent reduction in concerns about child protection.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the Government was committed to preventing youth crime and anti-social behaviour. "The key to tackling youth crime is intervening early on and the majority of children are not prosecuted in a courtroom. Their actions are addressed using out of court disposals and robust intervention to prevent them entering the criminal justice system."

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