AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY

The juvenile justice system incorporates children from 10 to 17 years.[1] The original provisions under the 2001 Act set the age of criminal responsibility at 12 years for all offences and included a rebuttable presumption of doli incapax for children up to 14 years. An amendment to the Act contained in the Criminal Justice Act 2006 lowered the age of criminal responsibility to 10 years for children charged with offences of murder, manslaughter, rape and serious sexual assault. The justification provided by the Minister for Justice of the time was that it would not be satisfactory for the victims of serious crimes to have children excluded from the remit of the criminal justice system (Dail Eireann 2006). The presumption of doli incapax was also abolished and replaced with measures which provide some acknowledgement of the reduced competence and culpability of children aged 14 years and under, relative to their older peers and adult contemporaries. For example, the consent of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) is required to prosecute children under 14 years. Furthermore, the court has the power to dismiss a case of its own accord, or on the application of any person, if it concludes that the child under 14 years of age did not have a full understanding of what was involved in the commission of the offence. These legislative protections are important safeguards but their implementation is based on the discretion of the prosecutor’s office or the courts. The age of criminal responsibility is an important barometer of the extent to which children’s age and level of maturity are taken into consideration in responding to their offending behaviour (Seymour 2013). Ireland is similar to its nearest neighbours in Northern Ireland (10 years), Scotland (12 years) and England and Wales (10 years) but digresses from the European norm where the age of criminal responsibility is typically 14 years and over.

  • [1] The 2001 Act refers to persons under 18 years as children and for this reason the terminology ofchild or children is adopted in this chapter.
 
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