Ulster Unionist MLA for Lagan Valley, Basil McCrea, stated in today’s Justice Committee meeting that the age of criminality should be raised to 12 in Northern Ireland.
Speaking following the Youth Justice Review which advocated this approach to youth offending as the most appropriate way forward, the Justice Spokesperson commented,
‘Raising the age of criminal responsibility from the current threshold of 10 years old to 12 will help to keep more children out of the criminal justice system for longer. This is of course a desirable outcome given that contact with the police, courts and custodial institutions can have a stimatising effect on young people. This can often lead to criminal activity worsening and continuing over a longer period. It is important to note that each child needs to be assessed individually to see what the best course of action should be. There is a developmental scale which means a one size fits all model will not work.
An age of criminal responsibility which is 12 years old would also bring Northern Ireland into line with international obligations contained within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the provisions which currently exist in the Republic of Ireland and Scotland. It is now time for Northern Ireland to catch up with what is considered best practice.
A further area highlighted in the Youth Justice Review is that Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre is used to house young offenders who are on remand and some of those young people will then be sent on to Hydebank Wood. Having spoken to some young people in Hydebank Wood they feel that they are treated more as adults there than in Woodlands. We have young people aged 17 fighting in Afghanistan but under our criminal justice system they would be treated as children. This is an issue which needs to be debated.
Lastly, it is also my view that the Youth Justice Review did not pay enough attention to the Human Rights Thematic review of Children and Young People which was carried out by the Human Rights Committee of the Policing Board. This Report dealt with Anti-Social Behaviour Order’s (ASBO’S), Anti-Social Behaviour Contract’s (ABC’s) and Anti-Social Behaviour Forums (ASBF’s) and needs to be considered."