Evidence of Very Young Children
In the case of very young children who do not understand the nature of an oath, which is something more than the mere duty of speaking the truth, their evidence may be received, though not given upon oath, if the Court is of opinion that the child is possessed of sufficient intelligence to justify the reception of such evidence. But in this case the testimony offered by the prosecution must be corroborated by some other material evidence.
There is nothing in any of the Acts which affects the right of any parent, teacher, or other person having the lawful control or charge of a child or young person to administer reasonable corporal punishment to a child. But the right to punish a child is confined to the case of a child old enough to understand that it was being corrected, and not to an infant two years and a half old.
And in all cases the amount and nature of the punishment that may be lawfully inflicted will vary with the age, sex, and physical condition of the child.
In a case where the master struck a child who was his apprentice with a great staff, so that he died, he was convicted of murder.
A schoolmaster at Eastbourne complained to the father of a stupid boy of fourteen, saying that the boy was obstinate and ought to be severely beaten, to which, according to his account, the father replied the schoolmaster must act as he thought best. Accordingly, the schoolmaster beat the boy secretly in the night with a thick stick for two hours and a half until he died. For some reason or other this inhuman brute was only charged with manslaughter, perhaps owing to the fact that the murder was not discovered until after the inquest, and the judge, with misplaced leniency, only sentenced him to four years' penal servitude; the wife, who had assisted her husband in wiping away the blood that covered the staircase-for the boy had been beaten both upstairs and downstairs-not being charged at all.
There is now a penalty for selling cigarettes or cigarette papers to juveniles apparently under the age of sixteen, whether for their own use or not; boy messengers in uniform and boys in tobacco shops and factories excepted. Constables and park-keepers in uniform may confiscate the cigarettes or cigarette papers of such juveniles whom they find smoking in any street or public place. The youthful offender, when caught in the act, may be searched by the constable or park-keeper, unless the offender happens to be a girl.
Law be capable of immediate use for smoking; it applies to smoking mixtures and tobacco other than cigarettes. But in the latter case there is no offence if the seller has no reason to believe that it was being purchased by the juvenile for his own use.
The possibility of juveniles obtaining their supply of cigarettes from the automatic machines did not escape the framers of the Act. Consequently, if any particular machine for the sale of cigarettes is shown to be extensively patronised by children or young persons, the Court may order the owner of the machine or the person on whose premises the machine is kept to take precautions to prevent the machine from being so used, or if necessary, to remove it altogether.
Pawnbrokers are prohibited from employing any apprentice, servant, or other person under the age of sixteen to take pledges in pawn, and likewise from taking an article in pawn from anyone apparently under the age of fourteen whether offered by that person on his own behalf or on behalf of someone else.
Dealers in old metal and marine store dealers are prohibited under a penalty of £5 from buying, old metal from persons apparently under sixteen.
A similar penalty is imposed on shopkeepers for selling gunpowder to children apparently under the age of thirteen. Fireworks and caps for toy pistols are therefore included in the prohibition. In the latter case, however, the amount of gunpowder is so infinitesimal that practically no notice is taken of it, possibly on the ground that "the law does not concern itself about trifles."
Any person renders himself or herself liable to a £3 fine who gives or causes to be given any intoxicating liquor to a child under five; except by doctor's orders, or in case of sickness or apprehended sickness, or other urgent cause. It is doubtful whether this will prevent mothers in the privacy of their homes from giving their crying infants a drop of gin to soothe them.
A well-intentioned but ill-considered and badly drawn clause excludes children under fourteen from the bar of licensed premises. This, at first sight, seems highly desirable, but works badly in practice, the result being that while the parents are enjoying the warmth and shelter inside, infants and young children are left outside exposed to the cold. Also, no exception has been made in favour of country inns, which can afford the only shelter available in a storm.
Children may pass through the bar in order to reach other parts of the premises, but otherwise must not remain in the bar except during closing hours. Children are not excluded from railway refreshment rooms, hotels, and restaurants licensed to sell wines and spirits.
Where a child or a young person is called as a witness, the Court may, if it thinks it desirable, order the court to be cleared while the child witness is giving evidence, only persons directly concerned in the case and bond fide representatives of a newspaper or news agency being allowed to remain.
No child, other than an infant in arms, is now allowed to be present in court during the trial of other persons, unless his presence is required as a witness or for the purpose of justice, or he is a messenger or clerk.
Juvenile courts are to be established for juvenile offenders; but in the absence of some special building the Court, when dealing with juvenile offenders, or when hearing applications for orders or licences relating to a child or young person at which their attendance is required, is to sit either in a different building or room from that in which the ordinary sittings are held, or on different days, or at different times. In a juvenile court only the persons directly concerned in the case, including, of course, their solicitors and counsel, are allowed to attend; the Press not being excluded.
At all places of entertainment, whether licensed or otherwise, at which the majority of the audience are children and their number exceeds one hundred, special provision must be made for their safety by stationing adult persons to regulate and control the movement of the children when entering and leaving, and to prevent overcrowding in any parts of the building.
The person who is responsible and who fails to fulfil this obligation renders himself liable to a fine of £50, and for a subsequent offence a fine of £100 and the revocation of his licence if the building was licensed for music or dancing, or had a theatrical licence.
If the medical officer is of opinion after examination that the person or clothing of any child attending the public elementary school is in a foul or filthy condition, the local education authority may give notice in writing to the parent or guardian or other person liable to maintain the child, requiring him to cleanse properly the person and clothing of the child within twenty-four hours after the receipt of the notice, at the same time furnishing him with written instructions describing the manner in which the cleansing may best be effected.
Juvenile Court.-one which sits in a different room or building, or on different days or at different times from those held at the ordinary sittings to hear applications regarding children, or deal with juvenile offenders.