C (A Minor) v Director of Public Prosecutions: QBD 30 Mar 1994

The 12 year old defendant held the handlebars of a motorcycle allowing a second boy to try to remove the chain and padlock securing it. He appealed against his conviction.
Held: The presumption of doli incapax for a 10-14 year old child is no longer good law. Laws J said: ‘Whatever may have been the position in an earlier age, when there was no system of universal compulsory education and when, perhaps, children did not grow up as quickly as they do nowadays, this presumption at the present time is a serious disservice to our law. It means that a child over ten who commits an act of obvious dishonesty, or even grave violence, is to be acquitted unless the prosecution specifically prove by discrete evidence that he understands the obliquity of what he is doing. It is unreal and contrary to common sense;’ and ‘Even that is not the end of it. The rule is divisive and perverse: divisive, because it tends to attach criminal consequences to the acts of children coming from what used to be called good homes more readily than to the acts of others; perverse, because it tends to absolve from criminal responsibility the very children most likely to commit criminal acts. It must surely nowadays be regarded as obvious that, where a morally impoverished upbringing may have led a teenager into crime, the facts of his background should go not to his guilt, but to his mitigation; the very emphasis placed in modern penal policy upon the desirability of non-custodial disposals designed to be remedial rather than retributive – especially in the case of young offenders – offers powerful support for the view that delinquents under the age of 14, who may know no better than to commit antisocial and sometimes dangerous crimes, should not be held immune from the criminal justice system, but sensibly managed within it. Otherwise they are left outside the law, free to commit further crime, perhaps of increasing gravity, unchecked by the courts whose very duty it is to bring them to book.’ and ‘the presumption is in principle objectionable. It is no part of the general law that a defendant should be proved to appreciate that his act is ‘seriously wrong.’ He may even think his crime to be justified; in the ordinary way no such consideration can be prayed in aid in his favour. Yet in a case where the presumption applies, an additional requirement, not insisted upon in the case of an adult, is imposed as a condition of guilt, namely a specific understanding in the mind of the child that his act is seriously wrong. This is out of step with the general law.’


Laws J


Times 30-Mar-1994, [1995] 1 Cr App R 118


See AlsoRegina v Director of Public Prosecutions, Ex Parte C QBD 7-Mar-1994
The doli incapax assumption that a child does not have a guilty mind, is no longer an appropriate presumption for a 12 year old youth. A prosecutor must act in accordance with the guidelines issued pursuant to the Act. . .

Cited by:

Appeal fromC (A Minor) v Director of Public Prosecutions HL 17-Mar-1995
The House considered whether the long established rule of the criminal law presuming that a child did not have a guilty mind should be set aside.
Held: Doli incapax, the presumption of a child’s lack of mens rea, is still effective and good . .
CitedRegina v T CACD 16-Apr-2008
The twelve year old defendant had pleaded guilty to several allegations of sexual assault. The judge had ruled that it was not open to him to plead doli incapax. He appealed saying that only the presumption of doli incapax had been abolished, and . .
CitedJTB, Regina v HL 29-Apr-2009
The defendant appealed against his convictions for sexual assaults. He was aged twelve at the time of the offences, but had been prevented from arguing that he had not known that what he was doing was wrong. The House was asked whether the effect of . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Crime, Children

Updated: 19 May 2022; Ref: scu.78795