6th December 2012…Our letter to youth justice minister Jeremy Wright MP

Posted by NAYJ on Dec 6, 2012

Date 6th December 2012 Dear Minister There is a clear, and growing, consensus among the practitioner, academic and policy communities that the minimum age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales should be reviewed as a matter of urgency. Set at ten years, the age at which children are deemed to be criminally liable is - excluding the other jurisdictions within the United Kingdom - the lowest in the European Union and is well below the international average outside of Europe. This position has drawn criticism from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child as constituting a breach of international children’s human rights standards. The adoption of such a low age is also illogical given other statutory age related safeguards and regulations that apply to children: whereas a child of primary school age may be processed through the criminal courts and acquire a criminal record that, for some purposes, will remain with him or her for life, that same child cannot consent to have sex until the age of 16 years and is prohibited from driving a car until he or she is 17. Perhaps more significantly, the attribution of full culpability at such a young age runs counter to all the available evidence on children’s cognitive and emotional development. The pre-frontal cortex of the brain, for instance, which is important for impulse control and decision-making, continues to develop into the early 20s, more than ten years after the point at which children are considered by the criminal law to be fully responsible for their actions just as a mature adult. We are aware that your predecessor, Crispin Blunt, rejected any suggestion that the age of criminal responsibility was too low, arguing that children know the difference between right and wrong at an early age. We do not deny that there is a sense in which this is true, but ethical understanding, like literacy, is not a once and for all achievement; it improves with conceptual maturity, and in the process takes on a qualitatively different nature. The publication today of a paper by the National Association for Youth Justice, sets out the compelling evidence for change and we would urge you to review the government’s position, accept the need to raise the age of criminal responsibility considerably, and initiate a wide-ranging consultation to determine how best to achieve this. Yours sincerely, Pam Hibbert OBE Chair of Trustees, National Association for Youth Justice and Dr. Maggie Atkinson Children’s Commissioner for England Professor Sue Bailey President, Royal College of Psychiatrists Rob Allen Director, Justice and Prisons; former Member of Youth Justice Board Eric Allison Prisons Correspondent, the Guardian Barry Anderson Former CEO Communities that Care UK Bob Ashford Wipe the Slate Clean Mark Ashford TV Edwards Solicitors Dr Raymond Arthur University of Teesside John Bache JP Magistrate Dr Gillian Baird Paediatrician Dr Tim Bateman Reader in Youth Justice Univ of Bedfordshire Camila Batmanghelidjh Chief Executive, Kids Company Sue BerelowitzDeputy Children’s Commissioner for England Jodie Blackstock Lawyer Chris Callender TV Edwards Solicitors David Chesterton JP Chair, Young Offenders Academy Advisory Group; Youth Court Chair Darren Coyne Care Leavers Association Frances Crook Chief Executive, the Howard League Prof. Sean Duggan Chief Executive, Centre for Mental Health Dr Hilary Emery Chief Executive, National Children’s Bureau Barbara Esam Lawyer; Trustee, Michael Sieff Foundation Richard Garside Director Centre for Crime and Justice Studies Penelope Gibbs Director, Transform Justice Roger Graef Film maker Prof Barry Goldson Charles Booth Chair of Social Science, University of Liverpool John Graham Chair of the Northern Ireland Review of Youth Justice Prof Kevin Haines Head of Department of Criminology, Swansea University Dr Richard Hester Senior Lecturer, Health and Social Care, the Open University Erwin James Journalist Mark Johnson Founder and Chief Executive, User Voice Andy Keen-Downs Chief Executive, PACT Prof Michael Lamb Professor of Psychology, University of Cambridge Shauneen Lambe Chief Executive, Justforkidslaw Dr Nick Lessof Paediatrician The Earl of Listowel House of Lords Prof Rod Morgan Formerly Chair, Youth Justice Board for England and Wales Joyce Mosley Previous CEO, Catch 22; former Member of Youth Justice Board Steve Myers University of Salford Tink Palmer Chief Executive, the Marie Collins Foundation Prof Jo Phoenix Chair in Criminology, Durham University Prof John Pitts Vauxhall Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Bedfordshire Steven Pizzey Trustee, Michael Sieff Foundation Joyce Plotnikoff Researcher, Lexicon Limited Dr. Rosalyn Proops Community Paediatrician Lord David Ramsbotham House of Lords former HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Matthew Reed Chief Executive, the Children’s Society Enver SolomonDeputy Chair, the Standing Committee for Youth Justice Chris Stanley JP Magistrate John Tencomi Chair of Trustees, Michael Sieff Foundation Dame Clare Tickell Chief Executive, Action for Children Paola Uccellari Chief Executive, Children’s Rights Alliance for England Dr Eileen Vizard Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist;Honorary Senior Lecturer, Institute of Child Health, UCL Richard White Secretary, Michael Sieff Foundation Prof Howard Williamson University of Glamorgan former Member of Youth Justice Board Richard Woolfson Lexicon Limited Maxine Wrigley Chief Executive, A National Voice Dr Joe Yates Director School of Humanities and Social Science, John Moores Univ, Liverpool Melanie Stooks The London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association