MSPs pass bill raising age of criminal responsibility to 12
Child looking out the window - Image credit: Adobe stock images
MSPS have voted unanimously to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland to 12.
When the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill comes in to force, which the Scottish Government has pledged to do by the autumn, primary school-aged children will no longer be able to be arrested or charged with a crime.
Instead children who engage in criminal behaviour will be given support to address the issues behind their actions without being treated as a criminal.
However, the Scottish Government has promised that “serious harmful behaviour” by under-12s will continue to be investigated and victims will be recognised and supported.
Commenting on the passing of the bill, children’s minister Maree Todd said: “Today is an historic day.
“This ground-breaking law delivers a bold, progressive, child-centred approach that will make a real difference to children’s lives.
“We can be proud that Scotland is leading the way in the UK.”
The new legislation will reduce the impact of behaviour carried out by a child into their adult life, as they will not in future have a criminal record and there will be restrictions on what information can be released about their actions as a minor.
Under the new law an independent reviewer will be appointed to scrutinise any potential release of information relating to when a person was under 12.
This will provide protection for children while also ensuring that information can still be released when it is considered necessary for public protection.
Children’s minister Maree Todd said she had “sought to achieve the right balance” between victim’s rights and those of children and young people.
She said: “Currently young children can be left with criminal records that can follow them into adulthood and affect their chances of getting training or a job.
“The measures in the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill will end that.
“I have sought to achieve the right balance with this bill.
“This legislation forms a key part of our wider approach to children’s rights and youth justice.
“By getting this right, we will demonstrate that in Scotland we don’t just say things differently, we will show it by doing things differently.”
While the law will make the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland the highest in the UK, it is still lower than most other European countries and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have criticised a failure to raise it to at least 14.
Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “I’m utterly crestfallen at the SNP’s decision not to meet the UN’s recommendations on the age of criminal responsibility.
“It felt like we’d won the argument. But the government bottled it and decided their re-election was more important than children’s rights.
“They have without a doubt sunk any suggestion that Scotland can be a world leader on human rights.
“Any time we take issue with Russia or China on human rights matters those countries will be able to point out that they have a higher age of criminal responsibility than we do.
“The SNP have no cause to speak of this with pride.
“I will remind them of it every time they try to proclaim their credentials on children’s or human rights in future.”
However, the age of criminal responsibility may still rise further as earlier this week, Todd announced a new advisory group would take forward review of the legislation.
The group, whose membership will include organisations working with children and young people, will consider whether the age should be raised to higher than 12.