1. What should the age of criminal responsibility be in England?
2. Developmental and life course criminology has identified many risk factors for offending. What, if anything, can be done to reduce risk factors for crime?
3. Should we treat youth violence as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue?
4. Lots of people in the youth justice system are from socially disadvantaged groups. Should the youth justice system focus on addressing the welfare needs of these young people, or punishing them for wrongdoing?
Two young boys aged ten were recently convicted of attempted rape. The victim is a girl aged eight years old in England. Conviction of the two minor children raised a question on the age in which an individual is in a position to know that a certain wrong activity amounts to crime and subject to respective consequences. This essay will take into account the matters of how old a young person can commit an act which amounts to a crime and is subject to criminal litigation. This work will inspect the common supposition that the size of a child does not determine his or her mental development state. Even though the children mature faster, it does not mean that they are in a position to recognize the nature of their wrong actions and consequences as far as the law is concerned (Abrams et al,2018).
This argument is based on the case that occurred in England where two minors were convicted of attempted rape in 2010 on the account of sexually assaulting a young girl of eight years old on different occasions in 2009. DNA evidence was used to link the accused to the crime and the victim and were found guilty of the offense. The two minors received a sentence of three years intensive supervision similar to that of adults. the sentence imposed on the two minors was however responded to by Ken McDonald, the director of public prosecutions, as a way of nurturing demons in the community. he went ahead to say that the children should never be subjected to the same punishments as the adults. This concern added another challenge on whether or not a child should receive the same punishment as an adult for the similar offense committed (Abrams, Jordan &Montero, 2018).
Ten years is the set age where an individual is held responsible for his or her criminal activity according to the law of England. This, therefore, means that according to the law, any child of age ten years and above is mature enough to be held responsible for his or her criminal activity. The argument of this paper looks into a question of whether it is just to hold a child responsible for criminal activity based on the age rather than mental development and maturity to understand the law (Balajanov, 2018).
The laws of land dictate the conduct of its subjects in daily life ranging from activities carried out and the behavior. This, therefore, means that the subjects should be able to comprehend the law effectively and be in a position to differentiate the prohibited and the allowed activities within a given jurisdiction. Due to this principle of law, it, therefore, occurs that for an individual to be liable to the criminal activity, he or she should have a full understanding of the law and his ability to choose what to do, either the wrong or the right and be ready to face the consequences (Bows & Westmarland, 2018).
Actus reus, the act itself and mens rea, the criminal intention are the main elements that should be considered before convicting an individual of an illegal offense. In addition, the accused must be found guilty beyond any reasonable doubt and therefore liable for the punishment (Cheng & Leung, 2018).
Traditionally, during the enforcement of criminal liability on the minors, a consideration is made on the basis that children lack criminal intention when committing a criminal offense as compared to the adults. This is also supported by the invention of distinct courts and confinement places for the children, which was on the basis that children cannot be held accountable for their criminal behavior (Dean, 2018).
For long period, there has been age and maturity consideration in children before imposition of any form of punishment for a given wrong action. In the 8th century, the Ine laws of pre-Norman held liable children at the age of 10 of their criminal activities. The law further lowered the age limit for criminal liability to 7 in the 15th century. In response to this, a court for the juvenile was developed under The Children Act 1908 to preside over juvenile criminal and civil cases in England. After a short period, the criminal liability age was raised to 8 and finally to 10 years by Section 50 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 and Criminal Justice Act 1963 respectively (Ellis, 2018).
Despite the enactment of 10 years as minimum age for the child conviction, there was no conviction of children carried out due to the dogma of doli incapax which stipulates that once a child has reached the age of criminal liability, he or she is not yet totally responsible for the criminal activity unless there was a proof beyond reasonable doubt that the element of Actus reus and Mens rea eminent. This was attached to the reason that a person subjected to the punishment by the law should be able to recognize and appreciate his or her mistakes and therefore help in achieving moral justification, however, this element was missing in children of age between 8 and 14 (Field, 2018).
In the 20th century, there was a change in sentiment over children in England following a case of a boy aged 13 engaging in the vandalism of a motorcycle. The minor was convicted of the crime on the argument that during the early age, children were not exposed to education and therefore did not know the law hence justifying the use of doli incapax, but in the present generation and century, all children have access to education and are elite enough at young age to differentiate between the right and the wrong action as well as their consequences, therefore, the elements of Actus reus and Mens rea are known to them, hence liable for punishment. The same assumption was supported by the House of Lords and the New Labour government in 1997 on the ground that due to improved education system culture and illiteracy has been eroded hence there is early maturity of children to know what is acceptable and unacceptable by the law (Fowler and Kurlychek, 2018).
This was further supported by the White Paper No More Excuses which championed for the advancement of traditional rules and stated that traditional rules protected children of their irresponsible behavior and it is now the time that they must be held accountable of their actions. To confirm the agreement of doli incapax abolition, the Crime and Order Act 1998 under section 34 passed a bill stating that a child of age 10 years and above understands the law and is fully liable to any consequences pertaining criminal acts. Compared with other countries that have a minimum age for criminal liability, England has the lowest age limit and the strictest forms of punishment (Foulkes & Blakemore, 2018).
The abolition of doli incapax raised a question of whether or not the children actually and not presumptuously are fully aware of the disposition of criminal obligations. The basis of the abolition was on the universal nature of education in England for all children at an early age of 5. However, despite the fact that children are exposed to education at the early childhood stage, the nature of quality of education, as well as the extent to which the children comprehended whatever they are taught, was not considered (Fuligni, Dapretto & Galván, 2018).
The early education of the child on the nature of law and its requirements do not give assurance that the child is now in a position of making his or her own decisions on what is right and wrong. Classroom learning is not enough, children also learn through observation and copying whatever they see and hear being done. It should also be known that different children have different learning abilities which bring a difference in their understanding (Freeman, 2018).
In addition, the provision of universal education is not a guarantee that all children are going to school and are being educated. The study carried out by Cavadino suggest that those children that have been expelled from schools have no proper understanding of the law and they are the frequent perpetrators of violent activities without Mens rea. It is, therefore, crucial to consider school attendance of the child before convicting him of his crime. Moreover, the attitude of children towards education is of greater significance as it determines the extent to which they comprehend whatever they learn from classrooms. The positive the learning attitude, the higher the understanding and obedience to the law (Garland, 2018).
Furthermore, the survey that was carried out by The Offending, Crime and Justice in 2017 on the relationship between school absenteeism and the rate of crime committed by the children came up with the results as follows: 63% of children of age 8-14 who missed school frequently admitted to bee antisocial and engaged themselves mostly in violent activities while 37% of those that rarely missed school were guilty of prohibited activities. These statistics included both males and females. Another research carried out by The Youth Lifestyles indicate that the higher the number of times a child misses school amounts to the high rate of offensive behavior as compared to those that had low records of school absenteeism (Gooding & Bennet, 2018).
It is evident that not going to school is among the factors contributing to the offensive nature in children, both males and females (Gooding & Bennet, 2018).
Nevertheless, truancy has many underlying causes. Another survey conducted by The Offending, Crime and Justice on the attitude of children towards their schools and teachers found that fifty percent of children who had a negative attitude towards their schools and teachers recorded high levels of offensive behavior (Helverschou et al, 2018).
The survey conducted indicated that it is not enough to assume that education for all children makes them have complete understanding of the law and be able to distinguish between the right and the wrongdoing but rather, several factors associated with education such as the delinquency, the attitude of the child at school as well as the quality of education should be put into consideration before putting them through the system of criminal justice for conviction. The positive attitude and right education for the young individual's mold right behavior in them for both present and future life (Kaiser et al, 2018).
Age vs. Mental Development
In England, the children are being subject to almost similar measures for criminal liability as the adults. This has raised a concern of whether consideration is being made over the maturity state of these children at the time of crime commission and subsequent conviction. The use of assumption that children at the age of 10 and above are mature enough to know the difference between the right and the wrong action as well as to understand the consequences of their wrongdoings according to the law of the state is exposing children to the severe measures of criminal justice system and this creates a risk of making them used to these measures at an early age and therefore making them resistant to corrections in future (Kois & Chauhan, 2018).
The indiscriminately nature of criminal justice system on both adults and children indicates that the state is ignorant of the growth steps and nature of the intellectual development in children but rather it is concentrating on justice enforcement on its subjects without even caring whether the subjects fully recognize their faults and ready to change after imposition of corrective measures or not. On the same point, Fionda in his research states that revoking doli incapax is a complete refusal of the state to accept the fact that the way children perceive sensitive and common issues is much more different from the adults, and therefore subjection of young offenders to the same criminal system as the adults is injustice to the children. The innocent offenders are not aware of their actions as they act out of curiosity and not ignorance (McAra, 2018).
The scientific results from the field of neuroscience which deals with the brain examination for the establishment of its development and functionality are in contrary with the decision of the state in abolishing doli incapax. The studies indicate that an individual is in a position to make rational decisions on the wrongs and rights over an issue when his or her brain has reached the maturity stage. The maturity stage where an individual can make informed and reasonable decisions is at the age of 21-26 years. This therefore evidently confirms that children up to the age of 20 years have an immature brain to deal with complicated judgments thus they act under emotions and impulse and cannot control their behavior under more circumstances. The immature prefrontal lobe exposes children to mood swings and unstable decision making. Based on these scientific facts, it is evident that children are not fully in control of their actions and therefore holding them responsible for their criminal behavior is an injustice to them (Morris et al, 2018).
Furthermore, the brain developmental immaturity in children incapacitates them during defense when undergoing the trial process. This has been witnessed in several cases where children are not aware of what to say in the court due to their limited ability to make the suitable choices, and therefore, the magistrates and the complainant have the unmerited advantage over the defenseless innocent child. This will lead to the punishment of a child who is not aware of his or her mistakes and who was not able to defend him or herself thus not receiving justice (Murch, 2018).
History of the Law
Based on the above facts, it was proposed that the child accused should be examined to establish if he or she admits being responsible for the crime or not. If the child admits that he is responsible for the crime, then it means that he or she had an intention of committing a crime and recognizes his or her mistake and thus the imposition of punishment on the culprit will be just and will be appreciated by the wrongdoer. The opposite applies to those that do not realize the responsibility of their crimes (Norman et al, 2018).
The question of setting a very low minimum age for criminal responsibility in England raised a concern over other instances where the age of an individual plays a key role. Among such instances is in getting married, owning properties and getting engaged in state activities such as voting. If the state sets a minimum age of 18 years for a voter it means that the state recognizes that an individual is mature enough to choose the right leader and anybody below 18 years has no ability to choose the leader, then, why should the same state hold criminally responsible a child of below 18 years while fully aware that the child is not mature enough to make the right decision? This shows that any individual below the age of 18 years according to the perception of the law of the state should not be criminally liable (O’Brien & Fitz-Gibbon, 2018).
In considering the above scientific facts and several views, the supreme court of England came in agreement with the use of Mens reus and Actus rea, that is, the act itself and intention of the accused as a basis of convicting the child. This means that before a minor is convicted, there should be a clear evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that the accused was fully aware of the effects that he or she was carrying out but ignored and went ahead to commit the action (Pfeifer & Berkman, 2018).
The issues and differences brought about by the way children are treated differently by the criminal justice system captured the attention of international human right commissions among them being the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This commission was forced to invoke Article 40 of its constitution which gives the requirements and factors to be considered while setting the minimum age where an individual can be held responsible for his or her criminal activities (Zanolie & Crone, 2018). This was affirmed by The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice which insisted that a child is subject to emotional and behavioral instability and they should not be held responsible of their criminal behavior. The age at which an individual is held criminally responsible should be at the age when he or she has acquired other social rights such as the right to vote, marry or own a property among others as stipulated in Beijing Rules number 17 (Roberts, 2018).
Concerns and Controversies
In response to the abolition of the doli incapax, the United Nations on the Rights of the Child in 2002 gave a recommendation advising all states to make their minimum age for criminal responsibility to be twelve years and above. This recommendation was supported by several commissions among them being The European Committee of Social Rights and The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner which state that there is a need to increase the age of criminal responsibility to a minimum of twelve years and that there is no need of setting any age for criminal responsibility prior to the stage when a child is fully aware of the responsibilities attached to their actions respectively. These proposals point to the need of first establishing whether the child is culpable of crime before setting any minimum age of criminal responsibility (Sabatello et al, 2018).
Upon considering the concerns of different commissions and scholars, both Houses of England made a uniform agreement to raise the age of criminal responsibility to twelve years old. Along with the age, other factors such as education status and intentions of the child have to be considered before carrying out the conviction for the crimes committed. This was also in obedience of the common charter controlling the age of criminal liability established in the European countries (Scott, Duell & Steinberg, 2018).
In conclusion, it is evident that the England criminal justice system is less capable of attending to the criminal matters related to the children. This is supported by the findings that most of the young individuals that were convicted have no any knowledge about the wrongfulness of their mistakes and what they were supposed to do when presented before the court (Tartaro et al, 2018).
The defendants also have reported of not being listened to or being given a chance to express themselves or narrate circumstances surrounding an offense and therefore being subjected to unjust punishment. Most of the trials are conducted by the lawyer of the defendant in the absence of the defendant and therefore the accused is not fully aware of his or her mistakes and the punishment attached to the crime (Vainik & Kassman, 2018).
It is therefore recommended that if a child is not in a position of properly understanding the process of legal proceedings, then he or she is inculpable and should not be held criminally responsible (Wilpert, van Horn & Boonmann, 2018).
Finally, the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to the universal recommended age of 12b years and above but it should not be fixed but rather it should be based on the maturity of the child to be able to know the right from the wrong and respective outcomes (Wishart, 2018).
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