Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Brain and the Age of Criminal Responsibility

The Guardian and the Daily Mail both cover an interesting story today.

The Royal Society, no less, has published a report that examines the relevance of modern neuroscience for the legal system. One of the authors, Cambridge Emeritus Professor Nicholas Mackintosh FRS, argues that our brains do not develop fully until we are about twenty years old. 

At ten years old, the age of criminal responsibility in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, our brains are still developmentally immature and, according to Mackintosh, young adolescents cannot be regarded as being fully responsible individuals. The structure of the brain, at this age, means that young people are more inclined to risk-taking and irresponsible behaviour.

I am pleased to see this research. It provides scientific evidence that supports calls for the raising of the age of criminal responsibility. Back in May 2011 I wrote that Assistant Commissioner Ian McPherson, the Association of Chief Police Officer's lead spokesperson on children's and young people's issues, was quoted as saying: 

"To say that at the age of 10 you suddenly become responsible as an individual seems to me a bit foolish."

Now it seems that it is not just foolish - it is also unscientific.