Children and Criminal Responsibility
At what age can a child be held criminally liable for their behaviour?
A child under the age of 10 cannot be prosecuted for a criminal offence – this is known as the doli incapax principle.
If a child is aged between 10 and 14, the doli incapax principle applies on a rebuttable basis. Doli incapax is not a defence but rather an element that the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt where the alleged offender is between 10 and 14 years of age.
What do the police have to prove to pursue charges against a child between 10 and 14 years?
The following must be satisfied before guilt of a child between the age of ten and 14:
- The presumption of doli incapax must be rebutted as part of the Crown case;
- The Court must be satisfied that the child knew the act was wrong, not simply naughty or mischievous;
- The evidence must be strong and clear beyond all doubt and contradiction; and
- The evidence to prove doli capax needs to be something more than simply proof of the offence charged.
How do the police try to prove a child is capable of criminal responsibility?
The behaviour of a child during the police investigation is ordinarily the first opportunity for the police to gather evidence that a child understands that the conduct was wrong. Interviews and reports from expert witnesses together with evidence of the child’s home environment, prior convictions or prior court appearances and answers (if any) in the record of interview with police can all be relevant.