Childhood and the law

How old do I have to be to……….?

The law restricts children from doing certain things in a number of ways. This article looks at some of the restrictions that apply to children.

Marriage and Civil Partnerships

The Marriage Act 1949 provides that a marriage is void if either party is under the age of 16. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 provides that a civil partnership is also void where either party is under the age of 16.

A person under the age of 18 cannot get married in a registry office without the written consent of certain persons, including parents or the permission of the Court.

Wills

Under the Wills Act 1837, as amended, it is not possible for a person under the age of 18 years to make a valid will. There are exceptions to this (under the Wills (Soldiers and Sailors) Act 1918 as amended) for soldiers in actual military service and mariners or seaman at sea.

Vehicles and aircraft

Under the Road Traffic Act 1988 a person has to be 16 years old or over in order to hold or obtain a licence to drive an invalid carriage or a moped. A person has to be 17 years old or over in order to hold or obtain a licence to drive a motor bicycle, an agricultural or forestry tractor or a small vehicle and a person has to be 18 years old or over before he can hold or obtain a medium-sized goods vehicle.

The Air Navigation Order 2005 provides that a person under the age of 16 years may not act as a pilot in command of a glider. A person under the age of 16 years may not act as a pilot in command of an aircraft.

Purchasing certain products

Certain products can only legally be sold to a person of a certain age. These are known as “age restricted products”.

A person has to be 18 years old or over to buy alcohol, tobacco, knives, gas lighter refills, solvents, certain fireworks and DVD and video games carrying an “18” classification.

A person has to be 16 years old or over to buy lottery tickets, spray paints, liqueur chocolates and certain fireworks. A pet shop can only legally sell a pet to a person who is 16 years old or over.

A person has to be 15 years old or over to buy a DVD or video game carrying a “15” classification and 12 years old or over where the DVD or video game carries a “12” classification.

Contracts

Under the Minors’ Contracts Act 1987 persons under the age of 18 are only permitted to enter into contracts for limited purposes.

Contracts entered into by children that are for “necessaries” are generally binding on children, as are contracts for apprenticeship, employment, education and service where the contract is considered to be for the benefit of the child.

Contracts for necessaries will include contracts for the purchase of food, medicine and clothing.

Employment

There are restrictions as to how much work can be carried out by children and where they can work.

A person cannot work full-time until they have reached the Mandatory School Leaving Age (currently 16 on the last Friday in June in the school year when they turn 16).

Persons over the age of 13 years old are allowed to have a part-time job. Below that age a child can only work in certain circumstances, for example where the child has a performance licence to work in television or theatre.

A person under the age of 18 cannot generally join the armed forces without the permission of their parents or carers. A person under the age of 18 cannot work in a bar when it is selling alcohol unless they are taking part in a permitted training scheme.

There are also restrictions on the number of hours a person under the age of 18 can work. These depend on how old the person is, whether it is term time or school holidays and what day of the week it is. There are also restrictions as to what time of the day persons under school leaving age are allowed to work.

Public offices

As a general rule a person under the age of 18 cannot hold a public office or post. The Juries Act 1974, as amended, provides that a person under the age of 18 is not qualified to serve on a jury. A person under the age of 18 is not allowed to sit or vote in the House of Lords (under the Electoral Administration Act 2006) and is not eligible for the House of Commons (under the Local Government Act 1972, as amended).

A child can, however, succeed to the throne, although if he is under the age of 18 his royal functions will be exercised by a regent. A child can also be lord of a manor.

Income tax

Under the Taxes Management Act 1970 a person under the age of 18 is liable to pay income tax. However, in default of payment by the child and where there is a trustee, parent, guardian or tutor who has the direction, control or management of the child’s property that person is liable for the tax.

Civil Court proceedings

A person under the age of 18 can only commence Civil Court proceedings or be sued in the Civil Courts if a litigation friend has been appointed. Where one or more of the parties is under the age of 18 the claim can only be settled or compromised with the permission of the Court.

Criminal Court proceedings

A child under the age of 10 cannot be charged with a criminal offence in England or Wales.

Bankruptcy

A person under the age of 18 may be made bankrupt and can present a bankruptcy petition by a litigation friend. A person under the age of 18 cannot, however, be appointed as a proxy to vote at a meeting of creditors.

Voting

Under the Representation of the People Act 1983, as amended, a person under the age of 18 is not eligible to vote in a parliamentary election.

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