NI: Lack of political support for increase in age of criminal responsibility

NI: Lack of political support for increase in age of criminal responsibility

Naomi Long

Proposals to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland from 10 to at least 12 have not progressed due to “a lack of political support”, Justice Minister Naomi Long has said.

Mrs Long yesterday gave a update on the implementation of the 31 recommendations of the 2011 Youth Justice Review, which included that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 12 and potentially to 14.

In an answer to a written question, the justice minister said this was “the one recommendation we have been unable to implement thus far … due to the lack of political support”.

However, Mrs Long said “significant progress” had been made in implementing other recommendations, particularly following the establishment of a cross-departmental, multi-agency steering group in 2015.

There has been a substantial reduction in the number of children coming into the formal justice system through increased early intervention and diversionary mechanisms, children have been removed from adult custody and transition arrangements have been developed for children who turn 18 while in custody.

Youth engagement clinics have been developed and introduced to improve communication with children and families and reduce the time taken for diversionary disposals, and arrangements for youth conferencing have been amended to ensure it is fair and proportionate for both children and their victims.

The “best interests” principle has been incorporated into the statutory aims of the youth justice system, with the PPS reflecting this in their revised Code for Prosecutors, and the Youth Court Guidelines reviewed and updated.

Work to improve the currently “segregated nature of service provision” is ongoing, including through the establishment of a new secure children’s campus in Bangor, which Mrs Long said “will help to address many of the remaining recommendations”.

She added: “Significant progress has also been made to the criminal records and disclosure regimes which apply to children, with further reviews planned, and I also intend to bring forward changes to bail and remand legislation for children, with the aim of making custody a measure of last resort.”

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