Belfast Telegraph

Call to raise criminal age limit

The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland should rise to 12, an expert report on youth justice said.

Prosecuting children aged 10 is not allowed in many other countries, the Review of Youth Justice said. The report argued that the limit should eventually rise to 14 in line with European averages.

Justice Minister David Ford has outlined details of the report at the Assembly.

It said: "The small numbers of children below these ages involved in offending still need support and discipline and to be held to account for their behaviour, but this should not be through a criminal justice process that further damages them."

The report added: "Age 10 is low by comparison with most other countries. International treaties have suggested it should be higher and certainly not lower than 12."

The review team's members were John Graham, director of the Police Foundation for England and Wales, Dr Stella Perrott, former head of the care and justice division of the Scottish government, and Kathleen Marshall, a solicitor and child law consultant.

Democratic Unionist Stormont justice committee chairman Paul Girvan reminded members of the case of James Bulger, who was tortured and murdered by two boys aged 10. He said his party opposed raising the age of criminal responsibility.

"That would be a retrograde step and would distract from all of this work and I would ask the minister to reflect on that," he said.

Mr Ford said he feared controversy over the age was distracting from the key issues within the report about reforming the justice system.

Mr Ford added: "The recommendations within this report reinforce what I have consistently said since being elected minister - the solutions to the problem are not just for the Department of Justice acting in isolation."

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