Mark Easton has written a very good piece on the conviction of two young boys at the Old Bailey on Monday for the attempted rape of an eight-year-old girl. See also Chris Mills’ excellent post on the subject
In any other European country this trial simply could not have happened because the age of criminal responsibility is set a great deal higher, and is usually in line with the age of consent. That seems pretty sensible. As we said repeatedly when the dreadful Sexual Offences Act 2003 was going through parliament, the current position in the UK is completely incoherent. We have an age of consent in order to protect children because we believe that they are not sufficiently mature to understand the nature of consent in sexual encounters. Simultaneously, we hold that somebody six years below that age of consent has sufficient understanding to be tried in an adult court and convicted of a sexual offence. How is that possible?
It is hard to believe that this show-trial has achieved anything positive for any of the children involved in it. The law requires lifetime registration for the two boys, and the little girl has almost certainly learned some pretty traumatic lessons from the entire experience.
I don’t go along with those who criticise the verdict on the basis that the girl kept changing her story – the fact that the judge did not throw the case out, and that the jury (people like the rest of us) found the boys guilty, implies that there was rather more to the evidence than her own word. It does, however, indicate that she was finding the proceedings difficult and stressful. This may or may not have been a situation where normal curiosity got out of hand, and only those who actually heard the whole trial are in any position to say.
What is obvious, though, is that none of these children should have been in a court in the first place. If the two boys involved are engaging in sexually harmful behaviour, then that needs to be addressed through welfare services in order to make sure they don’t grow up into the kind of people dangerous enough actually to belong on the Violent and Sexual Offenders’ Register.