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THE AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY

One of the major changes effected by an amendment of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960,[1] was to fix a new age of criminal responsibility.[2] In the past, the age of criminal responsibility was fixed at 7 years, but between 7 years and under 12, liability was based on a test of maturity. This discriminated between children based upon the level of their maturity and appreciation of right from wrong at the time they engaged in the wrongful conduct, rather than on what they had done. Such an approach to fixing criminal responsibility was criticized by both scholars and practitioners as it appeared to differentiate between children, not on the basis of what they had done but on the basis of how fast they had attained maturity and a sense of right and wrong.[3] In prescribing 12 years as the minimum age of criminal responsibility in place of the old common law standard of 7 years, the objection to the discrimination between children was addressed, and the minimum age also saw a rise to the higher age of 12 years. In that same amendment in Act 554, the age of sexual consent was also raised to 16 years from 14 years. Further, and in consonance with the prescriptions of the CRC, the Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560) raised the upper limit of childhood from 17 years under the existing law[4] to 18 years. These changes had implications for the criminal justice system because it took from the criminal justice system all those children above 7 and under 12 years who had got into the system and changed the age range of those who could be sent to the junior industrial schools as a means of disposition from the juvenile court.

  • [1] This was by the enactment of the Criminal Code (Amendment) Act 1998, Act 554.
  • [2] Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29), Section 26
  • [3] H.J.A.N. Mensa-Bonsu, “The Young Offender and the Criminal Justice System,” (1990-92) vol.XVIII University of Ghana Law Journal, 49-71 at 50-51
  • [4] Criminal Procedure Code, 1960, Act 30
 
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