According to English common law, the doli inpax rule presumes that a child, ten years and younger, cannot be legally responsible for his or her actions and so, cannot be convicted of committing a criminal offence. An online search on Wikipedia, revealed that in England and Wales, the age was seven, but it was raised to ten by the passage of the Children and Young Persons Act of 1963.
Panday said the charge of larceny of a motor car proffered against the boy, is a nullity because the definition of that offence requires that the accused child must have had an intention to deprive the owner (of the vehicle) permanently of his property. “Can the police say this boy, when he took the car for a joyride, had intentions to permanently deprive the owner? The principle of doli incapax is more applicable here, than in a strict liability offence such as breaking a traffic light or driving without a licence and insurance,” Panday said.
Saying he was extremely surprised by the charges against the boy, Panday asked whether the police took statements from the boy as to whether he knew what he was doing was wrong?
“The question does not even arise, because the boy is doli incapax in the eyes of the law,” Panday said.
Attorney Shaun Vidale Teekasingh who practises in the Magistrates’ Courts, agreed with Panday that the legal principle applies to the boy. However, Teekasingh said there have been cases where children below ten, have been prosecuted. He referred to a case of two boys (aged eight), who set fire to a garbage bin, which led to a fire that burnt down several houses. Teekasingh said that while the doli incapax principle was applied, in that case, the prosecution succeeded with a conviction because it was able to establish that the boys’ mental state of mind was sound enough for them to know what they were doing (setting fire to garbage) was wrong.
“So my view is that while doli incapax applies across the board for all persons below a certain age, there have been exceptional cases,” Teekasingh said.
A State Attorney, speaking on the basis of strict anonymity, said the principle is applied in common law in Trinidad and Tobago, but there should be legislation to stipulate at what age a person should be held legally culpable for his/her actions.