The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales: an investigation into the arguments and evidence about moral reasoning and moral judgment

Wilkes, Heather B. (2011) The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales: an investigation into the arguments and evidence about moral reasoning and moral judgment. MSc dissertation, University of Portsmouth.

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    The age of criminal responsibility is currently ten years old in England and Wales under the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 (s.50). This means that when a child reaches this age they can be held criminally responsible for their actions and prosecuted by law. However, there are contentious arguments surrounding the age of criminal responsibility and an inherent tension when individuals are children yet also offenders (McDiarmid, 2007, p.2). It is often argued that although by the age of ten children know the difference between right and wrong they do not truly understand the consequences of their actions. Nor have they acquired the appropriate level of moral development to understand the true meaning of their actions. Interestingly at the time of writing from the literature reviewed no studies were found that have explored the link between the issue of moral reasoning and the age of criminal responsibility. Hence, primary data gathered as part of the study looks at moral reasoning and moral judgement with fifty one children aged between ten and eleven years.

    Moral reasoning is often defined as being the process of making judgements about the rightness or wrongness of specific acts (Boyd and Bee, 2006, p.263). The two seminal writers on moral reasoning and moral judgement, Lawrence Kohlberg (1963) and Jean Piaget (1932), have explored this through their observation of children playing games and giving them scenarios to consider and debate. The current primary research mimics Kohlberg’s work, with the children being given scenarios within a questionnaire format to interpret and respond to as a means of assessing their level of moral reasoning. A small sample of five children then took part in individual interviews considering another scenario to gain further qualitative information and quantitative data on moral reasoning.

    The main findings of the research highlight a huge variance among the children in regard to their moral reasoning stages with a significant difference between children aged ten and eleven. In regards to gender however the findings were unexpected and were not in support of previous studies. The findings support the need for a reassessment of current legislation and the age of criminal responsibility, specifically in relation to the formerly used concept of doli incapax due to the huge developmental variance among children.

    Item Type: Dissertation
    Departments/Research Groups: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Institute of Criminal Justice Studies
    Depositing User: Jane Polwin
    Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2011 10:00
    Last Modified: 28 Jan 2015 11:50

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