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Age of Criminal Responsibility

Volume 555: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2012

The Government are not considering reviewing the age of criminal responsibility. They believe that young people aged 10 and over are able to differentiate bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing.

That was a very disappointing answer. The fact is that in England and Wales we lock up more children than any other country in Europe. We imprison four times as many young people as Portugal, 25 times as many as Belgium, and 100 times as many as Finland. I make no apology for the fact that in 1999 we changed the law to reduce the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 10, but is it not about time that we accepted the recommendation of people throughout the civilised world that it should be at least 12? Why do the Government not agree with the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who believes that that change must come about?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman found my reply disappointing. I think it entirely appropriate to hold children aged 10 and over to account for their actions, and to allow the criminal courts to decide on an effective punishment when an offence has been committed. It is important to communities, and particularly important to victims, to know that young people who offend will be dealt with appropriately.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that restorative justice, a flagship policy of this Government, is particularly effective for children around the current age of criminal responsibility?

I agree, and that is why I made the point to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) that it is for the courts to decide the appropriate punishment. That might well be the use of restorative justice, which is particularly effective with young offenders.

I declare my interest as a special constable with the British Transport police. Although the age of criminal responsibility is 10, effectively many police officers will not do anything in the case of a miscreant under the age of 16. May we have a change to the law, whereby if a police officer were to issue a fixed penalty notice for somebody under 16 who committed antisocial behaviour or a crime, it would be served on their parents or guardians so that they would ensure that their children behaved properly?

I am always interested by the expertise my hon. Friend brings to this issue, given his welcome work as a special constable. I shall certainly consider his suggestion seriously.