Michael Sieff Foundation logo

Youth justice in the UK correspondence


Escaping Justice


An open letter to The Times, 28 October 2012


Keir Starmer is reported as saying (The Times, 24 October, 2012) that men who groomed teenagers for sex had escaped justice for decades because police, prosecutors and the courts failed to understand the nature of the abuse.

If that is so it is inexcusable, given the substantial increase in public and professional awareness of sexual abuse over the last three decades. The Michael Sieff Foundation has been holding conferences since 1985 on child welfare matters and related policy matters. An annual theme has been the importance of sharing information between agencies. Specific attention was given to this in the context of prosecution of offences in relation to children in 1995 at our conference ‘Children in the Crossfire’. This event was attended by the CPS, Police and Judiciary, as well as representatives from Government Departments. It was recommended:

‘The decision to prosecute or not is more likely to be right if it is based on the fullest information. This suggests the fullest exchange of information between the police, the social services and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The use of expert witnesses was also recommended. Should that not be routine in cases involving children?

In 2000 the Government issued ‘Safeguarding Children Involved in Prostitution’. In 2004 there was a Home Office Review on Child Prostitution to which the Foundation made a submission:

‘It is disturbing to read, 15 years [on from the Children Act 1989], that preventing, protecting and supporting children becoming vulnerable to abuse through prostitution, still needs to be addressed.’

And even more disturbing 23 years on. Has no progress been made since?

Richard White

On behalf of the Trustees of The Michael Sieff Foundation

Children and court


Letter published in The Times, 7 July 2010


The age of criminal responsibility should be raised substantially in line with most other countries


We are concerned about the very low age of criminal responsibility, ten years old, for children in England and Wales. The assumption that a ten-year-old can face charges is widely discussed in terms of whether or not that child can “understand the difference between right and wrong”. The question is more complicated — most ten-year-olds can understand that difference. The test should go beyond this and should decide whether the defendant’s intellectual capacity is such that he could not effectively participate in the proceedings and accordingly have a fair trial.

We believe that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised substantially in line with most other countries and propose a consultation process, led by the Law Commission, to explore how this could be rectified.

Dr Eileen Vizard, Child and adolescent psychiatrist
Professor Dinesh Bhugra, President, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Prof Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
Juliet Lyon, Director, Prison Reform Trust
Paul Mendelle, QC Chairman, Criminal Bar Association
Andrew Flanaghan, CEO, NSPCC
Lord Ramsbotham, House of Lords
Bob Reitemeier, Chief Executive, The Children’s Society
Mark Ashford, Solicitor, TV Edwards LLP
Camila Batmanghelidjh, Founder and Chief Executive, Kids Company
Dr Arnon Bentovim, The Child and Family Practice London and Visiting Professor at the Department of Health and Social Care, Royal Holloway, University of London
Professor Gwyneth Boswell, University of East Anglia
Michael Bowes, QC, Outer Temple Chambers
Frances Crook, Director, Howard League for Penal Reform
Baroness Deech, Chair, Bar Standards Board
Professor Peter Fonagy, Head of Department of Clinical & Health Psychology, UCL and CEO of Anna Freud Centre
Dr Danya Glaser, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Great Ormond Street Hospital
Professor Simon Hackett, Head of the School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University
Laura Hoyano, Fellow & Tutor in Law, Wadham College, University of Oxford
Professor Michael Lamb, Professor of Psychology and head of the Department of Social and Developmental Psychology, University of Cambridge
Shauneen Lambe, Youth Department, Just for Kids Law
The Earl of Listowel, Vice-Chair, Associate Parliamentary Group for Children and Young People in Care and Leaving Care and Treasurer, All Party Parliamentary Group for Children
Dr Eamon McCrory, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Senior Lecturer, Anna Freud Centre and UCL
Margaret Murphy, Chair of the Child and Adolescent Faculty, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Sally O’Neill, QC, Furnival Chambers
Dr Janet Parrott, Chair of the Forensic Faculty, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Joyce Plotnikoff, Researcher, Lexicon Limited
Richard White, Children Panel Solicitor
Peter Wilson, Clinical Advisor, The Place2Be
Barbara Esam, David Jeffries, Stephen Pizzey, Chris Stanley and John Tenconi, Michael Sieff Foundation Trustees