How old do you have to be before you can be charged with a crime?
Children under the age of 10 cannot be charged with a crime or taken to court.
Young people under the age of 14 but over 10 are thought to be old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. They can be charged with a crime and have the case tried in court. These cases are usually heard in the youth court.
Young people over the age of 14 and under 18 can be charged with a crime and may have their cases heard in a youth court, a magistrates’ court or a juvenile court etc
What happens when you are arrested?
When you are arrested you will be told what the police suspect you have done and what your rights are. This is called a caution. You will then be taken to the police station.When you are at the police station you will be told your rights again and asked if you want a solicitor to represent you. It is up to you to say if you want a solicitor present when you are questioned.
You will be “booked in” by the police; this means that they record your name, address, date of birth, school and telephone number. You will be told again the reason you have been arrested. You will then be searched and have your fingerprints and DNA (either a small piece of hair or a swab from your mouth) taken. If you are under 17 the police must find an “appropriate adult” to be present while you are questioned. This can be a parent, guardian, carer, social worker, youth worker or teacher.
The police then ask you questions, this is called an interview. The interview will be taped or video recorded. You may be held in a detention room or cell while the police collect more evidence and decide if they have enough evidence to charge you with a crime.
In minor cases the police decide if they will charge you with the crime. In more serious cases a Prosecutor decides if there is enough evidence to charge you and what the charge should be. If this is the first time you have been in trouble, the charge is for a minor offence and you admit that you did the crime, you may be given an official reprimand or warning. If you have done the crime before or the crime is serious, for example if you have hurt someone or broken into someone’s property, you will be charged and have to go to court.
Once you have been charged you must appear before a magistrates’ court. The police decide whether to let you go home (on bail) or keep you in custody (in a cell) before the court case. You will be given bail unless there is a very good reason for keeping you in custody.
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