U.K. Rejects Calls to Raise Criminal Age From 10 to 12

The U.K. government rejected calls from one of its advisers to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12, the Times of London reported Saturday.

Children's Commissioner Maggie Atkinson, who called for a change in the law, said a civilized society should recognize that children who commit offenses should be treated differently from adult criminals.

"Even the most hardened of youngsters who have committed some very difficult crimes are not beyond being frightened," she said.

"In terms of knowing what the full consequences of your actions are, you are into older childhood or adolescence."

She claimed politicians were not putting the needs of children first because they were so influenced by the views of victims’ relatives.

"The ‘we are too worried about the parents issue’ is something that runs like a thread through a number of cases.

"My constant song is, ‘listen to the children and young people,’" she said.

Her comments came after Denise Fergus, the mother of James Bulger, met Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, this week to discuss the return to custody of one of her two-year-old son’s killers, Jon Venables.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said Saturday: "We believe that children aged 10 and over can differentiate between bad behavior and serious wrongdoing.

"We do not intend to raise the age of criminal responsibility. It is not in the interests of justice, of victims or the young people themselves, to prevent serious offending being challenged.

"Only 3 percent of young offenders who admit or are convicted of an offense receive a custodial sentence, and the government has expanded the range and intensity of community sentences available for young people as an alternative to detention," he said.

The age of criminal responsibility in England was in effect reduced from 14 to 10 by Straw in 1998 when he ended the presumption that children under 14 did not know the difference between right and wrong. In other parts of Europe, the age ranges from 14 to 18.

Atkinson later issued a statement saying she did not mean for her comments to offend relatives or victims affected by "terrible atrocities."

"Some children and young people do commit terrible crimes and are a danger to themselves and to others," she said.

"It is right, therefore, that these children are contained in secure settings as in the case of James Bulger’s killers and more recently the horrific case in Edlington (where brothers aged 10 and 11 pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm in September after an attack that nearly killed two boys only ended when the brothers grew tired). I empathize with the pain and anguish felt by all the families of the victims involved."

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