The UK House of Commons Justice Committee released a report Thursday recommending that the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales be reviewed.
Currently children in England and Wales can be arrested and charged with a crime from the age of 10. Under the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019, the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is 12.
The report, which is the first of two on children and young people in the youth justice system, noted that:
The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is a contentious issue with substantial arguments in favour both of the status quo age of 10 and an increase in that age. We are not persuaded that it should be immediately increased, but given the arguments in favour of raising it and the fact that the age in England and Wales is lower than in broadly comparable countries, we consider there is a case for reviewing the age of criminal responsibility.
The Committee came to this conclusion after receiving oral and written evidence from a number of witnesses.
Among critics of the current rule was The Equality and Human Rights Commission and Dr Alexandra Lewis, Chair of the Adolescent Forensic Faculty Special Interest Group at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Evidence from both parties highlighted that the human brain is not mature by the age of 10.
The Minister of Justice argued in opposition to any change that children aged 10 and over are “able to differentiate between bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing, and it is right that they can be held accountable for their actions”. It was further noted in evidence before the Committee that in the well-known UK case of James Bulger, where two 10-year-old boys murdered a 2-year-old, the perpetrators would not have been criminally liable nor could have served custodial sentences had the age of criminal responsibility been 12.
The UK Government has two months to respond to the report.