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The Blundering Commissioner

March 14, 2010

There is a case to be made for raising the age of criminal responsibility. It is a subject which deserves careful, measured consideration and debate preferably within the context of examining the whole creaking juvenile justice system in Britain which is long overdue for comprehensive reform.

Last March Maggie Atkinson was appointed to the rather pointless position of Children’s Commissioner. [Before continuing may I point out, in defence of my profession, that she is not a social worker.] In a TimesOnline article she treated us to her thoughts. One of those thoughts was that young children, like the killers of Jamie Bulger, should avoid criminal prosecution. To recommend raising the age of criminal responsibility midst the current tabloid media ferment about John Venables and when a general election is imminent was bound to be counter-productive.  In this context the government’s immediate reaction to dismiss Dr Atkinson’s suggestion outright was totally predictable as was Denise Fergus’ demand that she be sacked. Did she not anticipate this? Her foolish intervention has probably put the much-needed modernisation of the juvenile justice system back by several years

Further on in the TimesOnline article she is quoted as saying:- “None of us is born a good person or an evil person. The backgrounds from which we come, and whether we are nurtured and secure, will shape our character. The adults who role-model for us — or don’t — will change who we become, for better or worse. I’m far more a believer in nurture than nature.” While not headline grabbing these thoughts will be found objectionable by traditional Christians and naive by evolutionary psychologists.

Dr Atkinson has certainly raised her profile but at the cost of upsetting a bereaved mother, bringing the tabloid press down on her head and forcing the government to declare its rejection of her ideas. I suggest the next time she thinks of making public pronouncements that she first gets the advice of Max Clifford.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 15, 2010 3:56 pm

    I agree that Atkinson’s timing couldn’t have been worse. Right before an election, did she really think she was going to get any official support for something so contentious? I wasn’t a bit surprised to hear Children’s Secretary Ed Balls say today that:

    “”On the issue of criminal responsibility, I disagree with the children’s commissioner.”

    In the UK, we have one of he lowest ages of criminal responsibility. In most parts of the US, for example, the age is 18. But thanks to Atkinson’s poor timing, many people will associate any attempt to debate this issue as constituting support for the killers of Jamie Bulger.

    In my opinion, I do not think we should be assuming criminal responsibility upon people we do not even assume have responsibility enough to vote.

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