Criminal responsibility of children

A judge has ruled the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board must make an award to a child, who had been subjected to a violent attack by a child of three. The age of his attacker was irrelevant to the compensation claim.

The law accepts that persons of a young age should not be held fully responsible for their actions.  The age of criminal responsibility in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 10 and that has been the position for some time. 

Jay Jones' family from Wirral, Merseyside, has, after a long battle, won the right to claim compensation after their son, Jay, aged just three at the time, was attacked by another three-year-old. The attack took place two years ago.

Jay's mother has won the right to compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA)  for her son.  Allegedly he was hit 11 times with a car jack by another three-year-old boy whilst they were alone together in a car.  Jay was hospitalised and needed stitches to his head.

The issue was whether a claim for injuries sustained as a result of criminal behaviour could be awarded even though the culprit could not be prosecuted because he was not of sufficient age.  It seems as though it has been finally accepted that it would be wrong to deny such a claim which otherwise falls within the terms of the compensation scheme. 

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority had previously twice refused to pay out.  The authority had disputed whether a three-year-old could be guilty of a crime of violence but it was eventually established at an Appeal Tribunal that the age of the attacker was irrelevant.

The facts of this case appear be to very unusual to say the least but maybe the importance of the decision is that it sets a principle which others may wish to pursue.  The problems of anti social behaviour in socially deprived areas around our towns and cities are well documented.  Youngsters, some of whom are younger than 10, engage in anti social behaviour and criminal behaviour, often at night.  They are caught by the police and taken to the police station only to be let loose once their age is established. They are then returned home only to go out the next night and cause havoc again. 

The case in question is a timely reminder that, no matter how condemning the evidence against a child appears to be, the criminal law accepts that, on behalf of society, the criminal courts are not equipped to assess the culpability in someone under 10.

It is a serious social problem which featured as part of Sara Payne's recent report.  This precedent seems to accept that even though the offender is a young person below the age of criminal responsibility, the person harmed or injured may be compensated under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

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