Review on raising age of criminal responsibility to begin
Senior figures from the criminal justice and children’s sectors will begin formal talks on raising the age of criminal responsibility in the next ten days.
The Scottish Government has set up an advisory group to address issues involved in raising the minimum age from eight to 12.
The group, which will meet for the first time on November 16, has been asked to provide recommendations for public consultation in early 2016.
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Ministers told the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2012 they would review whether the age of criminal responsibility should be increased to 12 during the lifetime of this parliament.
However, an attempt by the Liberal Democrats to raise it via the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill failed to gain government support in September.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said he was “sympathetic” to the amendment by Lib Dem MSP Alison McInnes, though “it did not address the policy, legislative and procedural implications” around such a change.
Chaired by Robert Marshall, deputy director for care and justice within the Scottish Government, a group has now been asked to map out the issues involved.
The group will consider the disclosure of criminal records, the taking and retention of forensic samples, police investigatory powers, and “sustaining victim and community confidence should there be a change”, said Matheson.
Senior representatives from Police Scotland, Social Work Scotland, Children and Young People Commissioner Scotland and Victim Support Scotland will feature among the membership.
Matheson said: “We are open to future change on the minimum age of criminal responsibility but we do not want to pass legislation in haste and would not look to make such a major change in the law without those changes being consulted upon and properly scrutinised.
“It is essential that the right safeguards are in place for children and victims and to ensure the police can properly establish the facts.”
However, the government has already encountered criticism after the timescale for the group’s first meeting slipped by almost a month.
Matheson told Holyrood’s Justice Committee in September that an independent advisory group on the issue was expected to meet “in the next six weeks”.
McInnes, speaking to Holyrood earlier this week, said: “I remain disappointed that the Cabinet Secretary wasn’t willing to agree to the principle in the bill given that his review group could have carried out their work and reported in the time taken to get through Stage 3 and achieve Royal Assent.
“The minister told me at committee on 8 September that he expected the review group to meet ‘in the next six weeks’, so things have slipped already. I will continue to take an active interest in this to do all I can to ensure that no further time is lost.
“All of the legislative and procedural implications he cites as barriers must surely currently be present and be dealt with for those under the current age of criminal responsibility.”
The advisory group will meet four times over the next three months with its terms of reference to be published following the first meeting.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Advisory Group has been established as a priority to meet our commitment to address the key issues around the age of criminal responsibility.
“Formal invitations were issued six weeks after the committee session to members and the Advisory Group will meet for the first time later this month on a date that enables all members to attend.
“It was important to get the right membership for this group so that we can make progress on meeting this commitment and that took longer than initially anticipated.”