Wednesday, 26 September 2007

The age of criminal responsibility

I think this may have been referred to elsewhere but I mention it again because of an article in the paper today in which a judge refused to find a youth of 15 guilty of (I think it was) ABH because the judge felt the youth was too young to understand how dangerous it was to fire an air rifle at another person's face.

Excuse me while I walk away for a moment to find a quiet place to lie down for fear that my head might otherwise explode.

There, that's better. Let us revisit this. A four year old is able to understand that taking a biscuit without asking is wrong and will consequently lie when asked, even when their face is covered in melted chocolate. They understand the difference between right and wrong (no I'm not suggesting we prosecute 4 year olds). As an adult I cannot claim I didn't realise how serious my action was as a way of mitigating my action (or perhaps I can). What did the youth in question think would happen? Have we bred a generation compleetly incapable of empathising, or at least putting themselves in the shoes of others? Perhaps if we assume the worst and work backwards this would discourage people. For example, let's assume that if I jump on someone's head it is only a matter of luck if I don't kill them, that is, I should expect that jumping on their head will kill them. Consequently I should be charged with attempted murder. Given that health and safety is quite widespread and that most people would understand the concept of risk assessment it follows that we could draw up a list of actions and consequences so that the laws can be based on what might happen. If people truely understood how easy it is to kill someone by smashing a ton of metal into them, perhaps they might be more inclined to drive with due care and attention.

What should the age of criminal responsibility be? Clearly this is something that should be considered carefully by an appropriate range of people. I'm inclined to suggest 12, with parents being prosecuted for the crimes of those under 12. Of course I would also introduce a curfew so that anyone under the age of 12 could not be out on their own after 7.30, since to allow this to happen would seem to be negligence on the part of the parent. The most difficult group are the 13-17 year olds and whilst I think the police should have greater powers to deal with gangs of youths (if we can capure them on film then why can't they be arrested and prosecuted?), I also think that central and local government has a responsibility to offer young people an alternative to hanging around on street corners (youth clubs, community centres, scouts, guides etc.)

1 comment:

plasfan said...

Today in the newspaper an 11 year old boasts of being untouchable because he cannot be jailed for 26 burglaries. He has, however, been given an ASBO preventing him from shouting or swearing, or entering gardens or buildings without permission. What a pointless activity. If the law of the land is no deterent then why should an ASBO be any more effective? Clearly the child IS criminally responsible and should therefore be punished. On the other hand, how is an 11 year old allowed to be able to do this. he has clearly been failed by his parents and as such they should be punished and he should be taken into care. Harsh? Surely to allow this to happen is neglect. And for the child. Why would nayone expect someone so clearly lacking in any moral ability to ever be a useful member of society. If parents fail children, why should everybody else have to live with the consequences? Of course if we had a 'nanny state', which so many decry, intervention and therefore adjustment could have happened earlier.