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The age of criminal responsibility: developmental science and human rights perspectives

Elly Farmer (National Clinical Assessment & Treatment Service (NSPCC), London, UK)

Journal of Children's Services

ISSN: 1746-6660

Article publication date: 17 June 2011




The minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) was set at ten years old in 1963. Since then a deeper appreciation of children's rights and understanding of their unique capabilities and experiences has been gained. This paper seeks to examine the implications of these developments for our understanding of this MACR.


Research is reviewed that illuminates questions about children's culpability, their competence to participate in the criminal justice system (CJS) and the consequences of criminalising them at a young age. Recent understandings of how children's rights apply to the MACR are also summarised.


Developmental science and human rights perspectives are inconsistent with a MACR no younger than 12 years.


The paper is one of the first to extensively apply developmental science research to the MACR. The author finds that although a just and rehabilitative CJS may be achievable in the case of most adolescent defendants, this is an unrealistic goal for younger children who instead require a welfare‐based system that addresses underlying causes of antisocial behaviour, facilitates accountability and ensures child protection.



Farmer, E. (2011), "The age of criminal responsibility: developmental science and human rights perspectives", Journal of Children's Services, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 86-95.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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