Bar backs increase in Northern Ireland’s age of criminal responsibility

Bar backs increase in Northern Ireland's age of criminal responsibility

Northern Ireland’s minimum age of criminal responsibility should be increased to 14 years old, The Bar of Northern Ireland has said.

The Department of Justice last year launched a consultation on increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) in Northern Ireland, which is currently just 10 years of age.

The MACR is the age from which a child can be held criminally responsible for their actions, and can subsequently face the full criminal justice process including arrest, prosecution, trial and sentencing.

In its response to the consultation, the Bar says it is “supportive of a raise” as well as advocating for “additional discussion around special rules for looked after children within the criminal justice system”.

“We question whether it is in the public interest to prosecute looked after children in instances when a reasonable parent wouldn’t involve the police,” the response states.

While noting that Scotland and Ireland have both increased their MACR to 12 years old in line with a 2007 recommendation from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the Bar says “it is clear that policy and research have progressed since then” and 14 is now the international standard.

In an interview with Irish Legal News last year, Northern Ireland’s then justice minister Naomi Long said she hoped other parties’ opposition to MACR reform would soften outside of an election campaign context.

She said: “In the face of an election, politicians are often wary of making big changes that might be deemed controversial by the public.

“But there is, I think, a growing understanding that by increasing the age of criminal responsibility doesn’t mean that those who offend below that age are simply left to run riot – it’s just that there is an alternative mechanism for dealing with offending for those who are younger.”

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