Someone’s age can make a difference in 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. Children who admit less serious offences can be offered out of court disposals, such as triage or a youth caution.2
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
If a child reaches their 12th, 15th or 18th birthday during criminal proceedings it can affect how they are treated (see Turning 15 / Turning 18). This is because there are different sentencing powers for people aged ten to 11, 12-14 and 15-17.
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) 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 Custody Service 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. 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), it will take less time for their caution or conviction to become spent.3 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. Spent cautions or convictions are not disclosed to employers unless they have permission to obtain a standard or enhanced Criminal Record Certificate (CRC) from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). On a standard or enhanced CRC, all cautions and convictions are automatically disclosed, unless filtered.
Chronological, emotional, psychological or developmental age
A court will take into consideration a child’s emotional and developmental age and maturity as much as the chronological age. The age and maturity of a child will be important in sentencing decisions as well as determining whether a child can effectively participate in the court process. They can also be relevant factors in a court’s application of tests for self-defence or recklessness for example.
- 1. Section 50 Children and Young Persons Act 1933
- 2. Paragraph 4.2.4. Youth Caution Guidance for Police and Youth Offending Teams, Ministry of Justice & Youth Justice Board, April 2013
- 3. 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