Scottish Government to take advice on raising age of criminal responsibility beyond 12

Written by Jenni Davidson on 30 April 2019 in News

An expert group will advise the Scottish Government on the right age for criminal responsibility

Children's minister Maree Todd - Image credit: Jenni Davidson/Holyrood

The Scottish Government is to consider raising the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland higher than 12, children’s minister Maree Todd has announced.

The Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill, which would increase the age at which a child can be held responsible for a crime from eight to 12 is currently making its way through parliament.

But Todd announced that a new group will now be set up to consider whether the age should be raised higher still, as some, including the Liberal Democrats and the children’s commissioner, have called for.

The group will include professionals working with children and young people as well as young people themselves.

While raising the age to 12 would put Scotland above the rest of the UK, where it is 10, it would still be lower than most other European countries, where it generally ranges from 14 to 16.

Todd met members of the Scottish Youth Parliament to discuss the new group and invited them to take part in it.

Todd said: “The Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill will raise Scotland’s age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12 years old. 

“Raising the age will mean Scotland is leading the way in the UK, ensuring no child under 12 will be treated as a criminal, or accrue a criminal record.

“The bill has enjoyed broad support throughout the parliamentary stages though some have advocated the age should be higher still. 

“The advisory group will review the future age of criminal responsibility within three years of the bill becoming law, making sure that any increase would protect the interests of children, young people, victims and communities. 

“I am also keen to ensure that the review benefits from the views and experiences of children and young people.”

However, despite their support for raising the age further, the Scottish Liberal Democrats called the idea of the advisory group "morally bankrupt".

Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, who has proposed amendments to the current bill to raise the age to 14, said: “The SNP is asking parliament to next week pass legislation everybody knows breaches international minimum standards.

"Asking an expert group to look at whether that should be corrected in future is morally bankrupt.

“It took 10 years to persuade the SNP to take a baby step.

"Nobody should believe they have any intention of legislating all over again.

“Ignoring the unprecedented interventions by the UN and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights calling on Scotland to immediately go further is nothing short of an international embarrassment.

“Instead of kicking another generation of children’s rights into the long grass, parliament should back my amendments next week and raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14.

“It’s wrong that vulnerable children, whose mistakes can often be traced to circumstances outwith their control, can find themselves being punished for the rest of their lives.”

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