What is the age of criminal responsibility in the UK?

Criminal Responsibility

What is meant by Criminal Responsibility?

A criminal act is an act which has been committed by an individual which is considered by society as wrong, damaging to other individuals or society as a whole or is otherwise unacceptable. This conduct can be anything from theft, offences against the person, murder to sexual offences.

The individual guilty of a criminal offence will face prosecution by the state rather than a claim from an individual which would be a civil claim.

To be deemed responsible for a criminal act implies that the perpetrator must understand what they are doing and that it is wrong.

The age of criminal responsibility

For a perpetrator to fully understand what they are doing and that it is wrong they must be above a certain age and it is virtually impossible for children below a certain age to fully understand that their actions are wrong and the consequences of such actions.

The current age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10. Children under the age of 10 who commit criminal acts cannot be charged with committing those acts as the law sees them as incapable of committing those acts.  

What is the position in other jurisdictions throughout the European Union?

The age of criminal responsibility in the UK is the lowest in Europe with other European Union Member States setting the age of criminal responsibility between 14 and 16. The following European Union Member States have the following ages of criminal responsibility:

  • France  – 13
  • Italy – 14
  • Denmark – 15
  • Spain – 16

If the age of criminal responsibility is set at 10 does this mean that many children are being provided with a custodial sentence?

Many criminal acts carry with them a custodial sentence in prison as well as a fine meaning that individuals tried and convicted of these offences will be sent to prison. However, custodial sentences for individuals aged under 18 are only ever used as a last resort and in relation to the most serious, persistent and violent offenders.

According to Government Statistics only 3% of young offenders who commit criminal offences will receive a custodial sentence, as there are many other community sentences are widely used for young offenders as an alternative to custody.

What options are available to be used as an alternative to custody?

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For more information on:

  • What is the position in relation to children under 10?
  • Possible Reform
  • Should the age of criminal responsibility remain at 10 in England and Wales?
  • Lowering the age of criminal responsibility
  • Increasing the age of criminal responsibility
  • What recommendations have been made in relation to the age of criminal responsibility?