What is age of criminal responsibility?

The age of criminal responsibility is 10 in England and Wales. Children under 10 cannot be arrested or charged with a crime.

Children between 10 and 17 can be arrested and taken to court (dependent upon the severity of the crime committed). Children are subject to specific sentencing guidelines, are dealt with by youth courts, and are sent to special secure centres for young people.  They are not treated in the same way as adults, and do not enter adult prisons.

Young people aged 18 and above are however treated as adults by the law. If sent to prison, they’ll be sent to a place that holds 18 to 25 year olds- not a full adult prison.

What happens if a child under 10 breaks the law?

Children who break the law under 10 will be treated differently to youths or adults. Although children under 10 can’t be charged with a criminal offence, they can be given a Local Child Curfew or Child Safety Order. If a child repeatedly breaks the law, they can be taken into care, or their parents can be held responsible.

Local Child Curfews: The Police may ban children from public places between 9pm and 6am, unless accompanied by an adult. This can last up to 90 days. If a child breaks the curfew, a child safety order will proceed.

Child Safety Order: if a child has since committed another offence or has broken the Local Child Curfew, they can be placed under the supervisions of a youth offending team. This usually lasts 3 months, but can last for as long as 12 months. If a child decides not to adhere to the rules of the order, the court can consider whether the child ought to be taken into care.

What happens if a child ends up in trouble with police?

If a child is repeatedly getting into trouble with police, then parents can be held responsible. A parent can be asked to attend parenting programmes, given a parenting order by a court, or asked to sign a parenting contract.

Parenting programmes and contracts are run by local youth offending teams. Each programme is different, depending on the circumstances of the child. A parenting contract is an agreement signed by parents, agreeing to play a part in aiding crime prevention.

Although both parenting programmes and contracts are voluntary, courts can enforce them.

Parenting Orders are given by courts, and set out things children and parents can and cannot do. These orders can last for a year. If a Parenting Order is not obeyed, parents can be taken to court.

There are a variety of youth crime prevention programmes, run within local communities and involving both parents and families. Young people are placed on such programmes if it is believed that the child is at risk of committing a crime, is involved with anti-social behaviour, or have previously been in trouble with the police. Many of the programmes are voluntary and ran by local council youth offending teams, and local organisation and youth charities.

Youth offending teams

These teams work with young people that get into trouble with the law. Offending teams will investigate the background a youth, and aim to keep them away from crime. Offending teams run local crime prevention programmes, and intervene when a young person has been arrested, is charged with a crime and has to go to court, or has been convicted of a crime and sentenced.

An offending team also offers support in the following:

  • Help young people at police station when arrested
  • Aid at court with young people and their families
  • Supervise young people when serving a community service
  • Stay in touch with a young person if they’re sentenced to custody

Offending teams are part of local councils, and are separate from police and courts. Offending teams work alongside police, probation officers, health, housing and children services, schools and educational authorities, local communities and charities.

Why are young people sent to custody?

A court can hand down a custodial sentence if a crime is deemed particularly severe or serious and there is no other option. It can also apply where the young person has committed crimes before, or the court thinks the young person is a risk to the public. The Youth

Justice Board decides what centre a young person will be sent to- ultimately choosing somewhere that is suitable for their age, background and sex, as local as possible, and can deal with the young person’s needs.

Once the young person has arrived a search will be conducted, and a personal officer will be allocated to the young person. The personal officer looks out for the young person’s wellbeing and security.

What happens at custody?

Young people in custody spend time in lessons, learning new skills in order to help them get a job, or alternatively return to education. There are programmes improving behaviour, as well as sporting and fitness activities.

There are alcohol and drug counselling available for those who need treatment.

Young offender institutions are run by the prison service, whilst secure training centres are private. Secure children homes are run by local councils.

Alcohol and young people:

For those under 18, the following are against the law:

  • For someone to sell alcohol to an underage person
  • To buy or try to buy alcohol
  • For an adult to buy or attempt to buy alcohol for a person under 18
  • To drink alcohol in licensed premises

Police can stop, arrest and fine underage persons whom are caught drinking alcohol. However, young people aged 16 or 17 and accompanied by an adult can drink wine, beer or cider with a meal.

It’s illegal to give any alcohol to children under 5.  If a young person works in a restaurant or bar and is under 18, they can serve alcohol in a restaurant as long as the license holder or manager has approved the sale.

If you need expert criminal law advice, please contact me, Kara Frith, on 0113 200 7438 or alternatively email kara.frith@harrisonbundey.co.uk

I would be happy to discuss your matter with you.

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