Young criminals

IT is clear that Martin Narey, the well-meaning chief executive of Barnardo's and former boss of the Prison Service, has not thought through the consequences of raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years.

If his policy had been in place at the time of the Jamie Bulger murder, the courts would have been compelled to seek special dispensation before killers Jon Venables and Robert Thompson could have been charged.

They were just 10 years of age when this sickening act of violence – little Jamie was abducted from a shopping centre and left for dead on a railway line – was committed.

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Indeed, considerable evidence suggests that criminals are becoming younger, with more than 5,000 children, aged 10 and 11, being spared a custodial sentence in 2008 only because of the criminal justice system's tolerance towards such individuals.

Yet, in most cases, these young criminals fully know what they are doing. They know about the consequences of their actions and they know

the difference between "right" and "wrong". Why should they be exempt

from the judicial system on age grounds?

If Mr Narey had his way, and the age of responsibility rose to 12 years, there is every likelihood that the actions of these child criminals will become more violent before they, eventually, come under the jurisdiction of the courts. That cannot be right.

What needs to happen, in fact, is for the authorities to act more promptly, and diligently, when youngsters break the law – and also come up with an effective way of ensuring that parents are held accountable for the behaviour of their children. That will be far more beneficial, in the longer-term, than the short- sighted policy advocated by Mr Narey.