Concern as boy (10) on mum assault charge appears at adult court
A 10-year-old boy has appeared in court charged with assaulting his mother and police, as well as possessing an offensive weapon - a saw.
The child's appearance in Londonderry Magistrates' Court has prompted calls for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised.
District judge Barney McElholm said it was not for him to "stray into the realms of policy" but he also voiced his discomfort at seeing such a young child in court.
There has been much political debate around the minimum age for criminal responsibility, which is currently 10.
The court in Derry was cleared of anyone unconnected with yesterday's hearing while the boy was dealt with.
Journalists were allowed to remain, but the child cannot be named because of his age.
The boy is charged with common assault on his mother, criminal damage and assault on police. He is further charged with possessing an offensive weapon, namely a saw.
The charges relate to an incident on April 2.
Defence solicitor Paddy MacDermott said that social services were attempting to secure a residential place for the boy. He applied for the 10-year-old to be released on bail subject to an approved address.
Judge McElholm released the boy on his own bail of £50 and said: "I should not stray into the realms of policy, but the idea of criminal responsibility being 10 does not sit well with me".
The judge's views were supported by others, including People Before Profit candidate for Foyle Eamonn McCann and the Children's Law Centre based in Belfast.
Mr McCann said: "This child was brought before an adult court, which is shocking in itself, but to ascribe responsibility to a 10-year-old would contradict all modern thinking of how a child should be treated.
"In the Republic, the age of criminal responsibility has been set at 12 - which many still argue is too low - but that is still two years higher than this.
"It is time for politicians to look again at how acceptable it is to hold a 10-year-old child accountable and get this age changed."
Liam Mackle, of the Children's Law Centre, suggested 16 years of age was more appropriate.
"It is completely unacceptable that in any modern Western society a 10-year-old could be criminalised," he said. "We think the lower limit should be 16 or at the very least 14, and certainly most people would be abhorred that the age here is actually 10."
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the political will to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 did not exist.
He explained: "The minister would support an increase in the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the current minimum of 10 in line with the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. However, any such change would require cross-party support, and there is currently an absence of sufficient political support to implement such an increase."
The case was adjourned until April 19 and the boy was excused from appearing.