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Holyrood committee backs raising age of criminal responsibility in Scotland

Holyrood committee backs raising age of criminal responsibility in Scotland

Children on swings - Image credit: Seema Krishnakumar

A Holyrood committee has backed raising the age that a child in Scotland can be held criminally responsible for their behaviour from eight to 12.

The Equalities and Human Rights Committee has unanimously backed the principles of the Scottish Government’s Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill, which will raise the minimum age at which a young person can be held criminally responsible.

Scotland currently has the lowest age of criminal responsibility in the EU, with the majority of countries setting it at 14 or above.

Only France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and the rest of the UK allow children under 14 to be held criminally responsible, with the rest of the UK next lowest after Scotland at 10.

The proposals in the bill would bring the age of criminal responsibility into line with the minimum age of prosecution, as well as limiting childhood convictions that need to be disclosed in adult life.

Raising the age to 12 will also comply with the recommended minimum age in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

However, the committee is urging the Scottish Government to amend the bill to prohibit the use of police cells for children who are being taken to a ‘place of safety’.

Equalities and Human Rights Committee convener Ruth Maguire MSP, said: “The committee is very supportive of raising the age at which children and young people become criminally responsible for their actions.

“We recognise that many children enter the criminal justice system because of trauma they have suffered in their young lives.

“There was strong support for raising the age from different groups who came to give us evidence.

“Some of the compelling evidence we heard has given members a real sense of urgency.

“While harmful behaviours from young people must be addressed, we do not believe that criminalising a child before they turn 12 is a helpful intervention.”

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