The age at which children can be brought before the courts should be raised from 10 to 14, a judicial think-tank will say today.
They will argue that the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales - lower than in almost any other comparable countries - is disastrously counterproductive. As well as "demonising" young people, it can put them on the road to a criminal career when they are still at primary school, they believe.
Although the age of criminal responsibility has existed for decades, youth courts traditionally only convicted under-14s if the prosecution could demonstrate that the offender knew the difference between right and wrong. That safeguard was removed eight years ago.
The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) at King's College London, warns in a report today that the punitive "cops, courts and corrections" approach is failing to tackle the underlying reasons for children's offending behaviour.
Almost 1,000 children aged between 10 and 12 are brought before the courts each year. In one case, a 10-year-old was prosecuted for racially abusing another child in a school playground. The judge said the case was nonsense: "There must be other ways of dealing with this."
In 2004, four children aged between 10 and 12 were put in custody - all for burglary - while another 665 received community penalties.
A Home Office spokeswoman said it had no plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility: "It allows us to intervene earlier to prevent offending and to help young people develop a sense of personal responsibility for their misbehaviour."Reuse content