Consultation on increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility in NI

Closed 23 Dec 2022

Opened 3 Oct 2022


The minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) in Northern Ireland is currently 10 years old.  From this age, children can, and do, face the full force of the law, from arrest right through to sentencing and custody.  This is one of the lowest MACRs in Europe and fails to meet the standard set by the UN Committee on the Rights of Child which stipulates that no member state should set a MACR below 14 years.

The Department of Justice has been supportive of an increase in MACR since an independent expert review of youth justice in 2011 recommended that it be increased to at least 12 years.  Despite concerted efforts, a change in the law has not been secured due to a lack of cross-Executive support.

Research shows that criminalising children at a young age can draw them further and deeper into the justice system.  By increasing MACR from the current age of 10 to 14 years, the Department aims to reduce the number of children entering the justice system, and in doing so, improve the life outcomes for many who would otherwise have the burden of a criminal record and the stigma of being a “young offender”.  Often the response is that children of this age know right from wrong, and should be held accountable for their actions:  we agree, but believe this should be through help and support rather than merely criminalisation and punishment.

In order to gauge public support on the issue, the Department gave a commitment in March 2022, through its Strategic Framework for Youth Justice that it would carry out a public consultation on increasing MACR in Northern Ireland to 14 years old.  The consultation will run until 23 December 2022.

Why your views matter

The age at which a child can be held criminally responsible is a potentially sensitive and polarising issue, therefore, the views of the public could be instrumental in determining whether there will be a change to the current legislation. We would encourage everyone with an interest in this issue to read the consultation paper (attached below) and submit a response.




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