Someone’s age can make a difference to how they are treated by the police and in the criminal courts.
Age of criminal responsibility
The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years old.1 This means children aged 10-17 can be arrested by the police and charged for committing a criminal offence.
Age at the police station
Children at the police station aged should be treated differently from adults and given special protections, such as an appropriate adult, a parent or guardian contacted on arrest, transferred to local authority accommodation overnight, kept away from adults in cells. Seventeen year olds at the police station are currently not transferred to local authority accommodation but the law is in the process of being changed.2 Children who admit less serious offences can be offered out of court disposals, such as triage or a youth caution.3
Age at court
Most children charged with a criminal offence will go to the youth court. More serious cases might go to the Crown Court (see Which Court?). Where a child is accused of a crime with an adult these cases can be heard in a magistrates court or a Crown Court (see child jointly charged with an adult).
Turning 12, 15 or 18
Going to custody
A child’s age may affect where they go to custody (prison). A child can go to prison if the court refuses bail (and doesn’t remand a child to local authority accommodation) a child goes to Youth Detention Accommodation (YDA) or if the court imposes a custodial (prison) sentence. There are three types of custodial placement for children, secure children’s homes (SCHs), secure training centres (STCs) and young offender institutions (YOIs). The Youth Justice Board decides where a child is sent:
- Girls and boys aged 10 and 11 will be sent to a Secure Children’s Home (SCH). Older children (up to the age of 15) who are considered vulnerable will also be sent to a Secure Children’s Home. Children aged 10-17 can also be sent to a Secure Children’s Home (SCH) if they are refused bail and remanded to local authority accommodation with secure conditions.
- Girls aged 12-17 and boys aged 12-14 will be sent to a Secure Training Centre (STC). Boys aged 15 – 17 who are considered vulnerable by the Youth Justice Board will be sent to a Secure Training Centre (STC).
- Boys aged 15-17 (and are not considered vulnerable) will be sent to a Young Offender Institution (YOI). Boys aged 18 – 20 may be sent to a YOI (or an adult prison). Young adult males will be moved to an adult prison when they turn 21.
- Girls aged 18 and over will be sent to an adult prison.
Sometimes people have to declare to employers that they have cautions or previous convictions. All cautions are considered spent, this means a person can say they have no convictions when applying for most jobs. Convictions (a person has pleaded guilty or been found guilty in court) take different lengths of time to become spent. If a person is aged under 18 when they are convicted (plead guilty or are found guilty in court),4 it will take less time for their caution or conviction to become spent. If a person is an adult (aged 18 or over) when they are convicted, it will take more time for their caution or conviction to become spent.
- section 50 Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (back)
- See the criminal Justice and court bill (back)
- Paragraph 4.2.4. Youth Caution Guidance for Police and Youth Offending Teams, Ministry of Justice & Youth Justice Board, April 2013 (back)
- If the person is aged under 18 at the date of conviction, rehabilitation periods are halved as compared to an adult – Section 5 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. (back)