Report calls for minimum age of criminal responsibility to be raised in North

North’s minimum age of criminal responsibility, at 10 years old, is one of lowest in Europe

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has now stated the minimum age of criminal responsibility  should be 16. Photograph: iStock

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has now stated the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be 16. Photograph: iStock

 

The minimum age of criminal responsibility should be raised in Northern Ireland as a “matter of urgency” in order to comply with international children’s rights standards, according to a report to be launched in Belfast on Tuesday.

The minimum age of criminal responsibility is 10 years old in Northern Ireland and is one of the lowest in Europe, which the report said was in “clear contravention of children’s rights standards”. It is 12 years old in the Republic of Ireland.

Tracing the Review: Developments in Youth Justice in Northern Ireland 2011-2021 by Dr Nicola Carr from the University of Nottingham and Dr Siobhan McAlister from Queen’s University Belfast, considers the development of youth justice policy in the North in the 10 years since the publication of the Youth Justice Review in 2011.

The report was commissioned by the Children’s Law Centre, Include Youth, NIACRO and the Voice of Young People in Care, which are campaigning for the minimum age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 16.

Recommendations

In 2011 the Youth Justice Review recommended the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland should be raised to 12 with immediate effect and that, following a period of review of no more than three years, consideration should be given to raising the age to 14.

However, this is among a number of “significant” recommendations from the review that have not been progressed. Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility “to an appropriate level, which the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has now stated should be 16, to ensure children’s rights compliance is a necessary reform on which many other fundamental changes within the system rest,” the report said.

It warned the “lack of political consensus” was a “key barrier to progressing this recommendation”, with “many noting” that the minimum age of responsibility was “a ‘special issue’ in Northern Ireland”.

The Northern Executive “has a duty to comply with” United Nations obligations “and a public responsibility for the issue to be debated”, the report said.

The report also made a number of recommendations around policing and said “much more needs to be done by the PSNI and the various policing oversight bodies to achieve compliance with children’s rights”.