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Move grows to raise age of criminal responsibility

A legal trade body today backed calls for an increase in the age of criminal responsibility after two 11-year-old boys were sentenced for trying to rape an eight-year-old girl.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, said the move was needed to help reduce the chance of young offenders becoming serial offenders.

It comes after the children's charity NSPCC said the Government should review the age of criminal responsibility after the boys were each given three-year supervision orders when they were sentenced at the Old Bailey yesterday.

They were aged 10 last October when the girl told their mother that she had been assaulted in Hayes, west London.

Desmond Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, said: "The hallmark of a civilised society is the way in which it deals with hard and difficult cases - and not least how it deals with children who come into conflict with the law.

"Child development takes time and we should not hold the very young to the same standards of behaviour that we do adults.

"While it's important that the justice system can deal with older children it would be wrong to criminalise the very young - and 10 years old is very young indeed."

Last year the United Nations' Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended raising the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales, he said

Yesterday the trial judge Mr Justice Saunders said the "issue of the proper age of criminal responsibility is a political question and one which Parliament has already decided".

He added he would be submitting a report to the Lord Chief Justice, saying: "It is important that we learn from this case what lessons we can to ensure that where that is necessary the trial is dealt with as fairly as is possible."

The Ministry of Justice has said Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke would consider "very carefully" any matters that might be raised by the Lord Chief Justice following the case.