‘If you are 10, you go to prison’: children’s understanding of the age of criminal responsibility


  • Dawn Watkins University of Leicester
  • Effie Lai-Chong Law University of Leicester
  • Joanna Barwick University of Leicester
  • Elee Kirk University of Leicester


Under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, all children who are capable of forming their own views have the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting them. Through the use of innovative, participatory methods, the authors of this paper have gathered the views of over 600 children aged 8–11 years concerning the current age of criminal responsibility under English law. The aim of this article is to demonstrate what and how children think about the age of criminal responsibility; in the hope that children’s views, both individually and collectively, will both inform and influence debate on this significant issue. Through their analysis of children’s views, the authors demonstrate in this article that there exists for children a strong association between the notion of criminal responsibility and imprisonment. In light of this, the authors suggest that, alongside the discussions that are taking place around the appropriate age for setting criminal responsibility, priority must also be given to the consideration of steps that can and should be taken to increase children’s awareness of the English legal system to enhance their understanding of the criminal justice system and to improve their knowledge and understanding of children’s rights both in the context of wrong-doing, and more widely.