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Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility

A consultation exercise over proposals to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Scotland closed on the 17th June.

The consultation was run by an Advisory Group set up by the Scottish Government to consider the implications of raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from eight to twelve and to produce a report to form the basis of the consultation. 

The Advisory Group highlights that the age of criminal responsibility is a significant and complex policy area, which raises sensitivities due to the potential for rare, serious cases involving young children. Children under twelve cannot be prosecuted in court in Scotland, but those aged eight and over can be referred to the children’s hearings system on offence grounds.

Through the consultation, the Advisory Group sought views on a number of key recommendations, including:

  • Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from eight to twelve years, accompanied by safeguards to maintain system cohesion and reinforce victim and public confidence.
  • No change is required to current Children’s Hearings grounds for referral in anticipation of any minimum age change, because one or more of the other existing grounds could be applied.
  • Police should continue to be able to investigate incidents, and new procedural safeguards – adapted from child protection rather than criminal justice – should support children and families through that process.
  • Non-conviction information relating to harmful behaviour involving children under twelve can be disclosed in exceptional circumstances, subject to independent ratification.

The Scottish Government has said that it is open to considering future change, but currently has no firm position. Any decisions will be informed by responses to the consultation.

The Law Society of Scotland has recently published details of its response to the consultation. It says it supports the idea of raising the age of criminal responsibility as it would bring consistency across Scots Law.

“Scotland’s age of criminal responsibility is currently the lowest in Europe and we fully support the advisory group’s recommendation to raise it from age eight to twelve,” said Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Society’s Criminal Law Committee. “The interests of the child must be paramount and it is crucial that their welfare is the focus of attention even in the difficult circumstances of offending behaviour. We do not think that children under the age of twelve should have their actions recorded as criminal.”

The Faculty of Advocates has also given its backing to raising the age. Its consultation response stated:

“Raising the age of criminal responsibility from eight to twelve years would mean that children in Scotland would not be treated as offenders in respect of harmful behaviour in which they engaged when under the age of twelve, at a time when their behaviour is unlikely to have been the result of free and informed choice.

“As observed by the Advisory Group it would also cohere with the observations made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.”

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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