LONDON: Demands were made in Britain yesterday for sweeping reform of the way young children are dealt with in the criminal courts after two boys aged 10 and 11 were found guilty of attempting to rape a girl of eight.
The judge who tried the case of the youngest boys prosecuted for rape in Britain ordered a report into the impact of the Old Bailey trial on the girl, who gave evidence against them. Mr Justice Saunders said that there were “lessons to be learnt” and observed that the way children give evidence in adult courts was “not ideal”.
His concerns, which are likely to be referred to senior judges, are reinforced by a line-up of leading lawyers, including the former director of public prosecutions in Britain, Ken Macdonald, who warned yesterday that “we are making demons of our children” and that in the past few days there had been a spectacle “that has no place in an intelligent society”.
He said: “Very young children do not belong in adult criminal courts. “They rarely belong in criminal courts at all.” The two boys were both aged 10 last October when the eight-year-old girl complained to her mother that she had been assaulted. Yesterday, the boys were each found guilty of two charges of attempted rape but cleared of two alternative offences of rape.
They will be sentenced at a later date.They had denied assaulting the girl and their barristers claimed that they were just being naughty or playing a game. But the judge refused to throw out the case after the girl admitted that she had not been truthful about some of her evidence. He said it was for the jury to decide whether she could be trusted, adding that she had been consistent in what she told adults, including police and doctors, soon after the incident.
Throughout the two-week trial at the Old Bailey, the boys had sat with their mothers and solicitors in the well of the court and lawyers dispensed with wigs and gowns. But lawyers say that such reforms do not go far enough. The boys showed no reaction as they were remanded on bail for eight weeks for reports. The judge said he could not give any indication about sentence at this stage without seeing the reports. “These cases are not easy. Fortunately, they are infrequent.”
He said: “I will at some stage be sending my views about the procedure to those who are most concerned with it. That is not to indicate that there is anything wrong, but we should do everything we can to improve how we deal with these things by looking at the lessons that we can learn.”
The case raised questions, including whether the age of criminal responsibility, 10 in England and Wales, should be raised. Felicity Gerry, author of The Sexual Offences Handbook, said: “Attempted rape is a serious offence and can have long-term effects on the victim. Decisions to prosecute children are never made lightly. But it is hard to see why the decision was made to pursue (this) prosecution.”