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Criminal responsibility

Three boys in hooded tops walk along street
BBC Radio 4's Law In Action
Tuesday 16 June 1600 BST
On Radio 4 and online

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the age of criminal responsibility is 10 - but should it be raised?

In the first of a new series of Law in Action Clive Coleman examines one of the most contentious issues in criminal justice.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland have one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in Europe.

Jon Venables and Robert Thompson
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson caught on CCTV before they went on to kill James Bulger

In Scotland, the age is 8, but the government plans to raise it to 12.

The issue became controversial following the killing of James Bulger in 1993.

Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who were convicted of the toddler's murder, were 10 at the time of the attack.

But since then, there has been new research, which some argue means the issue should be revisited.

Eileen Vizard
Dr Eileen Vizard has over 30 years' experience of dealing with children in the criminal justice system

Dr Eileen Vizard is a child psychiatrist with the NSPCC's Child Offender Service.

"There's a very substantial evidence base to show that children aged 10 are not fully mature," she says.

"They show developmental immaturity in terms of their physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development."

Dr Vizard believes that 14 or 15 should be the bare minimum age for criminal responsibility.

Laurence Lee, the solicitor who represented Jon Venables, takes issue with this view.

"For society's own protection there should be the potential and the possibility of a 10-year-old being prosecuted", he argues.

"I think the crime rate would rocket if that sword of Damocles didn't exist over a young defendant's head."

Clive also hears views from the front line on what the age of criminal responsibility should be when he spends a day at Thames Youth Court talking to young offenders, their parents and lawyers.

Read Clive Coleman's article on the BBC News website and air your views on the BBC's Have Your Say website .

Double the fun

Law in Action will now be repeated every Thursday evening at 2002 BST. The first programme will be repeated on Thursday June 18.

Contact the programme

If you have thoughts on any of the topics we have covered, or any other legal issues, you can contact us by email at, or by post at Law In Action, BBC White City, Wood Lane, London W12 7TS.

Law In Action was broadcast on Tuesday 16 June 2009 at 1600 BST on BBC Radio 4 and repeated on Thursday 18 June at 2002 BST.

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