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Raise age of criminal responsibility from 10, MLA urges Stormont

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Review: Rachel Woods has written to each member of the Executive

Review: Rachel Woods has written to each member of the Executive

Review: Rachel Woods has written to each member of the Executive

A member of Stormont's justice committee has called on the Executive to review the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

Children as young as 10 can be brought before the courts here.

Northern Ireland has one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in Europe, along with England and Wales.

Green Party MLA Rachel Woods has written to each member of the Executive urging them to start work on raising the minimum age.

She said the criminal justice system of a modern, progressive society should not categorise 10-year-olds as fully responsible for their actions in the same way as an adult.

"The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland is too low," she said.

"I brought this matter up with the Justice Minister at the very start of the Assembly term and have been raising it ever since.

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"In 2016 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that Northern Ireland should raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in accordance with acceptable international standards.

"Despite this, no progress has made been made."

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey agrees the current age of criminal responsibility is too low and hopes to work with Naomi Long and other Executive colleagues to reach a "consensus on proposed changes".

Interim Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin had written to Justice Minister Mrs Long in August saying it would be beneficial in improving the outcomes for children by keeping them out of the justice system for as long as possible.

Health Minister Robin Swann said it was a "sensitive and controversial issue" that many people will feel strongly about.

"Any decision to change the age of criminal responsibility will therefore be a matter for discussion and agreement by all Executive ministers," he added.

Mrs Long said she had been seeking views on the issue from her Executive colleagues in the hope that they can reach a consensus on how an increase in the criminal age of responsibility might be achieved in line with independent review recommendations and in compliance with international standards.

"The age at which a child should be held criminally liable for their behaviour is an emotive and often controversial issue," Mrs Long said.

"It is a topic which has been raised with me by a number of individuals and groups since my appointment, as well as being the subject of a number of independent review recommendations.

"It is my firm belief that such an increase would help to deliver on the overarching aim of our ongoing work to improve outcomes for children by keeping them out of the justice system for as long as possible and removing the burden of a criminal record and the associated stigma of being a 'young offender'."


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