AQO 2946/17-22 – Minimum age of criminal responsibility

Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister of Justice whether she intends to progress measures to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in line with the recommendation of the Review of the Youth Justice System and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Minister of Justice: I have been very clear about my wish to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility – or MACR – in Northern Ireland. To do so would meet the recommendation of the Youth Justice Review and bring us into line with international standards, including directives from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

However, Executive support is required to enable my Department to bring about a legislative change to MACR and, despite my best efforts to date, this support has not been forthcoming.

I understand that it can be a controversial issue, but evidence shows that early formal contact with the justice system often results in poorer outcomes for individuals in the long-term, which of course not only impacts negatively on them but also on their victims, families and communities.

By increasing MACR, we would not be allowing children to ‘get away’ with offending behaviour, or leaving such behaviour unaddressed. Rather we would be reinforcing the message that young children who offend need support, guidance and help, not criminalisation and punishment.

I will continue to press for an increase in MACR, and the issue will be highlighted in my Department’s new Strategic Framework for Youth Justice which is currently being developed.