The Independent 24th May 2010. The trial was held at the Old Bailey and has sparked outrage in some quarters (especially children's charities) - see the BBC report. The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10. This is among the lowest in Europe and the United Nations has recommended that the age be raised -see House of Commons Briefing Paper February 2009. Law and Lawyers looked at this back in March 2010. when, with rather unfortunate timing, the Children's Commissioner raised the issue. Scotland is considering raising the age to 12 years.
The method of trying children and young persons in the Crown Court for serious crimes is crying out for radical reform. [In April, Law and Lawyers looked at the trial protocol to enable trial of serious sexual offences within youth courts]. It is now 17 years since the trial of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables for the murder of James Bulger. In 1999 their cases were considered by the European Court of Human Rights (Grand Chamber) which was critical of the trial process used - see the judgements - T v UK and V v UK. Since the trial of Thompson and Venables there has been considerable improvement, particularly with regard to "special measures" to enable child witnesses (and other vulnerable witnesses) to give their evidence. Nevertheless, a child must still be subjected to live cross-examination which, of course, may be a considerable time after the events in issue. There is little doubt that "special measures" have been (generally-speaking) beneficial to the trial process but the serious question remains as to whether different processes and procedures are required.
This is a complex issue but it should be examined with some urgency. Former D.P.P. Sir Kenneth MacDonald has said - "..., we've been witnessing a spectacle that has no place in an intelligent society: very young children do not belong in criminal courts." He must be right.
See also - "Children and Young People Now" - 25th May 2010
Scotland - a rather different approach:
Interestingly, since 1971, Scotland has used a system of Childrens Hearings to which those under age 16 (sometimes under 18) can be referred unless the Procurator Fiscal considers the seriousness of the case to justify trial by the Sheriff's Court or the High Court of Justiciary. It cannot however be claimed that everything about the Scottish Youth Justice system is perfect though the Childrens Hearing system is generally well regarded. The Scottish system came out of the Kilbrandon Report of 1964.
For an interesting article see "The Politicization of Youth Crime in Scotland .." (Laura Piacentini and Reece Walters) and see The Guardian 26th May for a useful article about the Scottish system (author Douglas Bulloch, a former Chairman of the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration).
Centre for Crime and Justice Studies - "10 years of Labour's Youth Justice Reforms" - May 2008.
Addendum - 7th June 2010: Paul Mendelle QC, the Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, has called for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised. See Telegraph 7th June.