Letter: Criminal children

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The Independent Online
Sir: You report ('Presumption no longer English law', 30 March) the abolition by the Divisional Court of the doli incapax rule which stipulates that, to be convicted of an offence, a 10- to 13- year-old must know that his or her actions were 'seriously wrong'.

In most other West European countries, and in most states of the US, children of this age who commit offences do not appear before criminal courts. They are dealt with by civil court proceedings concerned with the need for compulsory measures of care. In the most serious cases this can include long-term detention in secure accommodation. During the trial of the boys convicted of James Bulger's murder, many foreign commentators were amazed that these children were dealt with by a Crown Court criminal trial.

The doli incapax rule provided at least some recognition that young people of this age should not be considered as fully criminally responsible as adults. Its abolition (unless reversed by the House of Lords) underlines the need for a review of this country's unusually low age of criminal responsibility.

Yours faithfully,


Principal Officer

National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders

London, SW9