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The Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill [HL] is a private member’s bill introduced by Lord Dholakia (Liberal Democrat). The Bill received its first reading in the House of Lords on 26 June 2017 and is scheduled to have its second reading on 8 September 2017.

The Bill contains one operative clause. It would raise the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales from ten to twelve.

Children under the age of ten cannot be arrested or charged with a crime. Children between ten and 17 can be arrested and taken to court if they commit a crime, but they are treated differently from adults and are dealt with by youth courts; given different sentences; and sent to special secure centres for young people, not adult prisons.

Lord Dholakia introduced substantially identical bills in the 2013–14 and 2015–16 session, which did not progress beyond second reading, and the 2016–17 session, which did not progress beyond first reading.  He has argued that ten- and eleven-year-olds should not be dealt with “in a criminal process based on ideas of culpability that assume a capacity for mature, adult-like decision-making”.  His view is also that dealing with ten- and eleven-year-olds through non-criminal procedures would be more effective than using the criminal justice process.

The Government’s position in response to Lord Dholakia’s previous bills has been that children of this age are, “for the most part, able to distinguish between bad behaviour and serious wrong-doing” and should be held accountable for their actions.  The Government has also argued that the public must have confidence in the youth justice system and know that offending will be dealt with effectively.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, considers a minimum age of criminal responsibility below the age of twelve years as “not internationally acceptable”.  It has called repeatedly on the Government to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility, but the Government has stated that it has no plans to do so in England and Wales.

The Scottish Government announced in December 2016 that it would raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Scotland to twelve by 2018.  It is currently set at eight in Scotland, although under-twelves are not prosecuted or sentenced in the criminal courts.  The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland is ten. The minimum age of criminal responsibility in almost all other EU member states is twelve or older.

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