Northern Ireland’s justice minister Naomi Long (pictured) has launched a public consultation to seek views on the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR).
This 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.
The consultation will ask the public to make a choice between maintaining the current MACR, which is ten years of age, or increasing it.
Minister Long said that she did not believe that criminalising children as young as ten was in their best interests, though she acknowledged that the subject divided opinion.
‘Negative long-term impact’
Earlier this year, she committed to consulting the public on the issue, with the aim of increasing the North’s MACR.
“Our MACR is currently the lowest in Europe, and substantially lower than 14 years, which the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child considers to be the very youngest age that a child should be held criminally liable,” Long stated.
“I believe such young children should not be drawn into the youth-justice system, particularly when research shows that early contact with the justice system often has a negative long-term impact on their lives,” she said.
The current MACR in the Republic of Ireland is 12, although there is an exception for children aged ten or 11, who can be charged with murder, manslaughter, rape, or aggravated sexual assault.