Following a major report on reforming the youth justice system in Northern Ireland, plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years old have sparked heated rows in the Irish Assembly.
The current age of responsibility in Northern Ireland is 10 years old, the same as in England and Wales, but in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland the age is 12 and in Europe it is 14.
The Democratic Unionist Party believe that raising the age would be coddling children who commit criminal acts, declaring that the action would be the "hug a hoodie" approach.
Laurence Lee, the solicitor who represented child killer Jon Venables, responsible for killing James Bulger, offered warned that raising the age would send out "an awful message" to children.
He said: "If you said to all 10-year-olds, who are a lot brighter now than they were, that the age of responsibility has gone up to 12, I think there would be absolute anarchy."
Currently, in Northern Ireland and in England and Wales, children aged under 10 years old cannot be given a criminal conviction, but those aged between 10 and 18 years old can be charged with an offence and will be treated the same way. If convicted, usually they will be given community sentences but they can be sent to prison depending on the severity of their crime.
The report outlining the suggestion to raise the age of responsibility was brought before the Irish Assembly yesterday (26 September). Addressing the assembly, Justice Minister David Ford claimed that rather than hugging a hoodie, he would prefer to "reform a hoodie".
Member of the Legislative Assembly Paul Givan, of the DUP, said that the age should be brought lower rather than raised. To which Green MLA Steven Agnew responded that the DUP would rather "hang a hoodie".
Read more on the story (The Belfast Telegraph)
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