Government has no plans to raise age of criminal responsibility

The Government has no plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility despite the outcry that followed the conviction of two boys for attempting to rape an eight-year-old girl, justice minister Lord McNally said today.

The boys, aged 10 and 11, were ordered to sign the Sex Offenders Register after being convicted last month - making them among Britain's youngest sex offenders.

Campaigners have seized on the verdict to push for the age of responsibility to be raised from 10.

Baroness Deech, a former law lecturer and current chair of the Bar Standards Board, said: "It is widely regarded as inappropriate to see 10-year-olds in court and to see very small children being examined as witnesses.

"The rest of Europe has a much higher age of consent and the United Nations is calling for it to be raised."

She called for the age to be raised to 14, for children not to be tried in open adult courts and for child witnesses not to be questioned in adult courts.

But Lord McNally said: "The Government has no plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility. We firmly believe that setting the age of criminal responsibility at 10 allows frontline services to intervene early and robustly.

"This helps to prevent further offending and helps young people develop a sense of personal responsibility for their behaviour."

He said that any age chosen would be "arbitrary" and international comparisons varied from six to 17.

"I was very impressed by the mixture of processes I found from the last administration, which makes it a very, very rare occurrence for young children to be before the court," he added.

Labour's Lord Borrie said: "While there may not be a perfect answer, perhaps it might be an idea if the judge in the particular case had an element of discretion that in the particular case before him he should not allow what happened in the recent case."

Lord McNally said the Lord Chancellor, Ken Clarke, would receive a report in which the judge in the case of the two boys would "give his opinions of the process".