One of the most complex, contested and controversial questions confronting modern juvenile/youth justice systems concerns the minimum age of criminal responsibility: the age at which a child is deemed to be sufficiently 'mature' to be held responsible before the substantive criminal law. The Royal College of Psychiatrists' Adolescent Forensic Psychiatry Special Interest Group took the initiative, in October 2012, to convene a conference in order to explore the question of criminal responsibility from different disciplinary perspectives: clinical, criminological/sociological, developmental and legal. The substantive articles that form the basis of this 'special issue' began life at that conference. They have since been developed and subjected to peer review and what follows is an attempt to open up an informed inter-disciplinary discussion.
Inevitably, there are key points of divergence and difference within, and across, each of the substantive articles. There are also core points at which the articles converge and intersect. All of the authors are struck by inconsistencies between civil and criminal statute. Each is concerned with the conspicuously low minimum ages of criminal responsibility that pertain in UK jurisdictions. All four articles unsettle what might otherwise be taken-for-granted and each makes a case for reforming the way in which law, policy and practice define the legal personality of the child in criminal proceedings.