Monday, 15 March 2010


The age of criminal responsibility. When is a child old enough to understand that they are doing something wrong and should be prosecuted for it? The debate has resurfaced this week after children’s commissioner Maggie Atkinson called for the age to be raised as she believes under-12's cannot understand the full consequences of their actions - something that has clearly angered the mother of murdered toddler James Bulger, Denise Fergus. I agree with Fergus to the extent that what Atkinson said was wrong, but it is wrong to say she should be sacked for her comments.

We find ourselves in a similar situation as when chief drugs adviser Professor David Nutt was fired for his comments against current cannabis policy. Someone in office has said something controversial and they are being pilloried for it. By all means have the debate, but we live in a free speech society where people should be allowed to make their opinions known. Tory frontbencher Ken Clarke said she should “not resign for expressing an opinion on a perfectly serious quite difficult subject”. Well said that man.

But aside from whether Atkinson should resign or be sacked, when do children become old enough to stand trial? During my court reporting at university, I often see children who can hardly see over the dock at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court and Sheffield Youth Court. I remember one case where a little boy who looked particularly mischievous started playing with his mobile phone in court to wind up the usher. Maybe they see it as a game at that age. But then again, many older people facing trial also see it as a game, and that doesn’t prevent them being taken to court. I think back to when I was 10 years old, and I certainly understood the difference between right and wrong at that age. It’s likely that Jon Venables and Robert Thompson did too.

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You may have missed the news over the weekend. There was a mass invasion of Georgia by Russia, planes bombed the capital Tbilisi and President Mikheil Saakashvili was assassinated. Surprisingly it didn’t make the front-pages this morning and there aren’t many pictures available. In fact, that’s absolutely unsurprising. Because it was a fake. The Georgian channel Imedi thought it would be funny to play out a very realistic 30-minute report on a Russian invasion as a little joke to its viewers.

Unfortunately not all of them saw the funny side, and there were reports of protests outside the TV station, people suffering from heart attacks, mobile phone networks crashing and cinemas emptying as children were called home by parents. It could be seen as a) a massive success in viewer figures for Imedi; b) an excellently-executed piece of propoganda by a political party; or c) absolutely hilarious. Now, whilst the real war between Russia and Georgia only finished two years ago, it probably wasn’t seen as being that funny by the majority of viewers.

But jokes have been made on this subject before. In the words of Hugh Dennis from Mock the Week, who gave this example for ‘questions that were rejected from this year’s exams’: “Vladimir has 10,000 tanks and you have three. Why would you start a war?” Making jokes about wars and producing fake reports on invasions may be quite comical to some - especially directors at the Imedi television company, perhaps - however, there are some subjects that maybe shouldn’t be touched. I’m sure someone at the Kremlin had a little chuckle about it though...

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It goes without saying that whoever you support, David Beckham is a footballing legend. 115 games for England over 13 years is a remarkable achievement, which makes it all the more sad that an injury to his left Achilles tendon looks like it’s ruled him out of playing in a fourth World Cup. Beckham, 34, is currently on loan at AC Milan from Los Angeles Galaxy and was expected to be in the England squad this summer, but now there is even speculation his career could be over. That seems somewhat farfetched, but we won’t know until he has been given the full medical diagnosis.

Beckham is one of those players who has suffered lots of stick from certain fans, but the reception he got at Old Trafford playing for Milan last Wednesday shows how well-loved he was too. I still think he has the best ball distribution of any player in the world - and whilst he might have lost a bit of his fitness and pace in recent years, you cannot put a price on such an intelligent football brain as his. England have cover on the right-wing from the likes of James Milner, Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips - and it’s unlikely Beckham would have started a game in South Africa - but his presence around the team counts for a lot, and it’s a great shame that he won’t be playing.