The short answer is, “it depends.” Just like adults, children can be truly awful, sometimes worse than that because they are not necessarily aware of the emotional and legal consequences. We see this in bullying at school and online or increased presence of young people in Court for crimes of violence and even reflected in increased reporting of juvenile suicide.


Back to “it depends.” If your child is under 10, then there is a presumption of doli incapax or “doli”, and is really just Latin lawyerspeak for a child not being mature enough to have the “mental element” of most offences. Without the mental part, there can be no finding of guilt.

Doli is hundreds of years old but has been increasingly criticised since the highly publicised murder of two year old James Bulger by two 10 year old boys in 1993.

Lead Prosecutor Richard Henriques QC successfully rebutted the presumption of doli incapax. Thompson and Venables were considered by the Court to be capable of “mischievous discretion” meaning and ability to act with criminal intent as they were mature enough to understand that they were doing something seriously wrong.

Tried as adults, the boys became the youngest convicted murderers in the 20th Century. They were then detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, meaning, for a very long time.

Most kids, as unlovely as they can be, are not that bad and are not likely to be charged with any crime.


By the time the fruit of your loins is between 10 and 14 years they may be responsible for offences they commit.  They can be charged but still have doli on their side for now.

The prosecution can kick doli to the curb if they prove the child knew what they did was ‘seriously wrong’ at the time they committed the offence and were not merely being naughty.

The privacy of children protected, especially when they find themselves in trouble with the law and we refer to them as the “young person” or by initials and are always careful about not identifying them.

If your Young Person is aged 10 to 14 and gets in trouble with the police, then they really should get legal advice from a lawyer experienced in both the criminal law and in Children’s Court.

When things get real

Once your kid is 14, they can most certainly be charged with a crime and will be legally responsible for any offence that they plead to or are found guilty of at hearing.


Kids in criminal trouble are dealt with under the Children’s (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987.

Being charged, means that the police think your child has committed an offence. Children are dealt with quite differently to adults and are more likely to be given a Court Attendance Notice or “CAN” with a Court Date and location on it.

If the police think your child has committed a very serious offence they may be taken into custody as a last resort. Children are almost never handcuffed except in extreme circumstances. If your child has been arrested and cuffed, then you should talk to a lawyer.

Children are not meant to be questioned by police in the absence of a support person. Do not let just anyone do that for your child. Seek advice for your child first, before they talk to police.


The Children’s Court deals with most crimes committed by young people who are under 18 years old when the crime was committed and who are charged before they turn 21.

The Children’s Court is more informal than other Courts. It is about a kid understanding what they have done wrong and looking at remedial help rather than punishment. They have a range of penalties including not recording a conviction at all right up to supervision, place and association restrictions as well as the last resort of juvenile detention.

Only serious crime will be recorded against your child’s name up until they are 16. There is fresh start as adults and childhood offences cannot be used on sentence as a grown up.  When we talk about serious crime it is things like: murder, assault, rape, and firearms or other weapons offences.


Yes, you do. How the Court deals with your child’s criminal matter can have a lasting impact on their adult life. A teenager who is a child at law can find themselves a registered sex offender for sleeping with their boyfriend or girlfriend. It is always important to speak to somebody who understands the law and how penalties work.

At National Criminal Lawyers we understand how difficult it can be for parents to come to terms with their kids getting into trouble. We are discrete and have years of collective experience looking after people in trouble and worried parents.



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