We are coming up to ‘trick or treat night’ when children will hope to get chocolates and sweets from the neighbours or carry out a harmless prank on those adults who do not join in the fun. Some older teenagers are more interested in the tricking and go to extreme lengths in what might be described as anti-social behaviour. In between are various levels of behaviour with egg throwing seeming to gain in popularity. Where this has become a problem some shops and supermarkets have volunteered to curb the practice. In the week prior to the night, signs will be displayed saying that eggs will not be sold to anyone under the age of 18. I am sure that some university students indulge in the practice but they appear to be exempt, by virtue of age, from the restriction. The age of 18 has no legal force but is consistent with other legal curbs that stop under 18s from purchasing alcohol, cigarettes, knives or gold-fish. This is because of an acknowledged perception that people are not responsible until their 18th birthday.
Using the same logic those under 18 cannot enter into binding contracts. In the Scotland referendum 16 and 17-year-old teenagers were allowed to vote in a special exception to the national voting laws. This was negotiated with little debate and little regard for other age related thresholds, being politically motivated. Inevitably the move has been declared a success and there are moves to extend the change to all parts of the UK and for all elections.
Why stop at 16, when enfranchising 14 year olds would be consistent with lowering the age of consent to 14 as advocated by some rights activists. Then we could allow 14-year-old teenagers to smoke , drink alcohol, buy knives and look after a gold-fish without killing it. They could even get married at age 14 but they would not be able to leave full-time school or training. School leaving age has increased from 12 to 14 to 15 to 16 and now 18. Going to university is encouraged so that if a graduate is lucky they might start work at 22 but government policy determines special measures up to 25. If the age for fighting in the military is 18 and this is linked to the voting age, can 16 year olds fight and risk their life. Or, if as some advocate, the age for active service is increased to 21 should the voting age go back to 21?
Between the ages of 14 and 21 many age thresholds are reached and have little logic or consistency. Some of these are impinge on parental rights but still require parent’s responsibilities. If it is a matter of competence, when is a person mentally able to make rational decisions? Science determines that as a general rule the brain is fully hard-wired at age 21, but this now said to only apply to females with males becoming sensible 3 years later. The latest research suggests that we should add another 4 years to both males and females. On that basis men should not get married before age 28 and women should wait until they are 25. However, there are always exceptions to the rule.
When it comes to legislation it is better to be certain and avoid variables. It would also be impossible in this age of correctness and equal rights to apply different ages to males and females. Not so long ago people were not certain how old they were or their date of birth, but this no bar now to drafting workable laws.
There are good reasons for taking a look at the age thresholds as a whole. This is not the first time that we have proposed a review. We have been critical about calls to increase the age of criminal responsibility. All our responses have been formulated on the basis of natural order and each seven year phase of life. We are clear that any proposal to change the voting age should not be taken in isolation.