Age of criminal responsibility to be increased to 12

Mark McDonald
Mark McDonald

Childcare & Early Years Minister Mark McDonald has set out plans to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Scotland from eight to 12 by 2018.

Scotland currently has the lowest minimum age of criminal responsibility in Europe and the move will bring the country in line with international standards.

The increase will include safeguards to allow the police to deal with and investigate the most serious and exceptional offences involving under 12s.

Mr McDonald said: “The case for change is clear and compelling. Having the lowest minimum age of criminal responsibility in Europe does not match with our progressive approach to youth justice and ambitions to give children the best start in life.

“In 2010 we raised the age of criminal prosecution to 12 – meaning no one under the age of 12 will be prosecuted or sentenced in the criminal courts and are instead dealt with through the Children’s Hearing System.

“Raising the age of criminal responsibility will mean people no longer face potentially damaging and life-altering consequences, such as a criminal record, for events that took place when they were a young child.

“I recognise that in exceptional cases appropriate safeguards are needed. Therefore we will ensure police powers to investigate harmful behaviour by under 12s, while there will be risk management and monitoring measures for those who need it.”

The Law Society of Scotland has welcomed the announcement.

Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Law Society of Scotland criminal law committee, said: “Scotland’s age of criminal responsibility, at eight years of age, is the lowest in Europe and we are very pleased to see the Scottish Government intends to raise it to 12 years of age.

“The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has said that setting the age of criminal responsibility below 12 is not ‘internationally acceptable’ and we have argued for several years that a child of eight is too young to be held criminally responsible. Raising the age will bring it in line with the existing age of criminal prosecution in Scotland, providing clarity in the law, and will ensure that children are not treated and then labelled as offenders because of things they did when they were under 12 years old.

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