Fresh bid to increase Northern Ireland’s minimum age of criminal responsibility

Fresh bid to increase Northern Ireland's minimum age of criminal responsibility

Naomi Long

A fresh proposal to increase Northern Ireland’s minimum age of criminal responsibility, currently the lowest in Europe at just 10 years old, is to come before the Executive.

Justice minister Naomi Long has previously spoken of her frustration at the lack of political consensus on raising the age (MACR) despite calls from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Responding to a written question in Stormont last week, Mrs Long said: “Increasing MACR would reinforce the message that young children who offend need support, guidance and help, not criminalisation and punishment.

“Evidence also clearly demonstrates that early formal contact with the justice system often results in poorer outcomes for individuals in the long-term, which of course not only impacts negatively on them but also on their victims, families and communities.”

However, she added: “To change the law in this area, Executive support is required and previously has not been forthcoming.”

The Department of Justice carried out a public consultation between October and December 2022, with 83 per cent of respondents agreeing that the age should be increased, with the majority supporting an increase to 14 years.

Mrs Long said: “My officials have developed several options for progressing this issue, based on views expressed during the consultation, and I intend to share a paper with my Executive colleagues to seek their views on my proposals.

“As any increase in MACR requires legislative change, it will not be possible for me to progress it in the absence of Executive approval.

“In the meantime, we will continue to implement the successful policy to divert children of all ages — but in particular younger children — from the formal criminal justice system and deal with them through early intervention and community support. This is in line with the actions set out in my Department’s Strategic Framework for Youth Justice.”

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