Belfast Telegraph

Eight 10-year-olds hauled before Northern Ireland courts in 2012/13

By Rebecca Black

Eight 10-year-old children appeared before Northern Ireland's courts in 2012/13, it can be revealed.

The youngsters had been charged with a range of serious offences from violence against the person, burglary, criminal damage and public order offences.

Some 20 11-year-olds were also among defendants. They had been charged with offences including drugs, motoring, public disorder, criminal damage, burglary, theft and violence against the person.

In total, there were 1,383 young people aged between 10 and 17 years who appeared before our courts in the year 2012/13, according to new figures released by the Department of Justice.

These figures refer to only first-time offenders. The information did not break down the outcomes for these children who appeared before the courts.

Justice Minister David Ford stated in 2012 that he felt 10 was too young for children to deal with the "weight of the criminal justice system".

The age of criminal responsibility is also 10 in England and Wales, but out of kilter with much of Europe.

Scotland raised its age of criminal responsibility to 12 earlier this year, while in the Republic no child under 12 can be charged, although there are exceptions for 10 and 11-year-olds suspected of very serious offences.

The Belfast Telegraph can also reveal that children as young as 14 were charged with sexual offences.

No details of the level or type of these crimes was given.

Chairman of Stormont's justice committee Paul Givan has stated that his party - the DUP - opposes an increase in the age of criminal responsibility.

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson, who sits on the committee, said his party would like to see the age raised to 12, but with flexibility for exceptional circumstances.

"The reality is there is a great deal of resistance to changing the age within the committee because of the DUP," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Therefore there does not appear to be an appetite to change the law in this respect.

"The police are doing their job, I can't criticise them bringing kids of that age before the courts because the law entitles that to happen, although at all times I would encourage other ways of disposing of these matters.

"But there will always be serious issues that can be committed by people under the age of 12, so therefore even though I support a change to the minimum age, it is important that there is space within the legislation for exceptional circumstances.

"For example, you don't want a James Bulger-type situation to emerge after a law is changed that you then can't do anything about.

"There has to be room for exceptional circumstances."

Toddler James was murdered by two 10-year-old boys, who were found guilty in an adult trial in 1993.

A DoJ report on first-time entrants to the criminal justice system found 12,371 new offenders, along with 27,126 further offences during 2012/13.

That represents a 3.5% drop from 2011/12, and the number of first-timers has fallen by 6.5% from 2011/12, when 13,225 were recorded.

Of the total number of offences in 2012/13, 22.3% (8,816) were dealt with by way of diversion, compared to 77.7% by a conviction.

Of all first offences, 39.8% were dealt with by way of diversionary disposal, compared to 60.2% (7,444) which were dealt with by conviction.

In the 2012/13 figures, young people formed the minority of first-time convictions, with most offences for motoring crimes.

Background

The age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland is 10 years old, which means that from 10 onwards, a young person can be charged with criminal offences and brought before a court.

That is the same as England and Wales, but out of line with much of Europe. Scotland has raised its age of criminal responsibility to 12 years.

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