Monday, December 30, 2019

Responsible Child and moves to raise the age of criminal responsibility

If the test of a good drama is that you find yourself thinking about it days later then Responsible Child passes that test.

It is quite the saddest play I can remember seeing - like a version of Oliver Twist with no Mr Brownlow.

And I really think that Billy Barratt's depiction of Ray is the best performance by a child actor I have ever seen.

In an interview the director of Responsible Child, Nick Holt, said he wants to highlight Britain's low age of criminal responsibility and start a discussion: :
I think it’s interesting that very few people know that the criminal age is 10. I think that even fewer know that this is from a piece of law since 1963. If you or I had a mental age of a 10-year-old, we’d be deemed unfit to try. It’s an extraordinary, extraordinary hangover from a very old piece of law.
Twenty-five years ago everyone knew the age of criminal responsibility was 10 because of the murder of James Bulger and demanded that it should remain so.

In any new debate the images from that trial may prove stronger than those of poor, wronged Ray, but there are signs of movement on the issue.

A report in The Times (£) last Friday said a paper from the Youth Justice Board is calling for a review of the age of criminal responsibility in the hope that it will be raised from 10 to at least 12.

It also wants responsibility for children who get into trouble with the police to be passed from the Ministry of Justice to the Department for Education.

The same issue of the paper carried a letter (£) from two consultant psychiatrists, a professor of psychology of cognitive neuroscience, and the crossbench peer the Earl of Listowel.

It says of a child of 10 charged in an adult court:
his extreme youth, continued brain and cognitive development and likely adverse childhood experiences mean that he is unlikely to be truly fit to plead to the charges and to conduct his own defence in line with his human right to a fair trial. 
It goes on to say that such a child defendant may show the 'blanked out' traumatised presentation depicted in Responsible Child.

The writers of the letter ground their case for change in neuroscience and how the brain development of a 10- or 12-year-old differs from that of an adult.

Will England and Wales be able to have a civilised debate and raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 12?

I hope so, though what happens to young offenders under any new regime will need to be scrutinised.

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