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Age of criminal responsibility debate
24 July 2012Two members of the Centre have been contributing to the recent debate as to whether ten is an appropriate age for children to be held as criminally responsible under the law.
Two members of the Centre have been contributing to the recent debate as to whether ten is an appropriate age for children to be held as criminally responsible under the law. On 19th June 2012 Eamon McCrory spoke at the ESRC seminar held in conjunction with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology chaired by Lord Ramsbottom, and on 4th July 2012 he also attended the roundtable discussion held at the Houses of Parliament, convened by the Centre for Social Justice where Elly Farmer addressed the meeting with a brief overview of the arguments.
Recent advances in developmental neuroscience, particularly in relation to adolescence, are not easily reconciled with a child of ten being as culpable for their actions as an adult or being able to engage fairly in a trial process as a defendant. There is a growing evidence base pointing to marked immaturity in the frontal cortex, a key brain region implicated in emotional and behavioural regulation prior to adolescence; indeed this region does not fully mature until after the age of 20. Although there is growing consensus among professionals, lawyers, academics and charities regarding the need for change to the age of criminal responsibility, there remains significant reticence by politicians to tackle this issue head on. Part of the difficulty is in establishing agreement as to how serious antisocial acts by children should be dealt with, balancing welfare needs, safety of the public and appropriate punishment.
An edited, earlier version of Eamon’s talk given last year at the Sackler / Royal Society conference in Irvine on Neuroscience and the Law, which provides an overview of the key issues, can be viewed here:
A recent review of the field by Elly Farmer can be accessed here:
Elly Farmer, (2011) "The age of criminal responsibility: developmental science and human rights perspectives", Journal of Children's Services, Vol. 6 Iss: 2, pp.86 - 95