MSPs unanimously back move to raise criminal age of responsibility to 12

Legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland to 12 has been approved in principle at Holyrood, despite some MSPs calling on ministers to go further.

Scotland has one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world at eight years old.

The Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill unanimously passed its first stage at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

But Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton complained progress in increasing the age has been made at a “snail’s pace”

The Scottish Lib Dems have called for the age to be raised further to 16, which is the case in countries such as Portugal, Lithuania and Luxembourg.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “I don’t think its unreasonable to suggest that this government arguably lied to the United Nations.

“The UN set a floor of 12 as the minimum age of criminal responsibility to be adopted no later than 2007 and for countries to work upwards from that point.

“Three parliaments have sat and risen from this chamber since that international starting gun was fired – only now has this government finally brought our country to the races.”

He said while the Lib Dems backed the Bill it was “with a sense of disappointment”, adding: “This is not a radical Bill, this is not even a progressive Bill.”

The Liberal Democrat MSP spoke out after Children’s Minister Maree Todd stressed it was “important to reflect on how far we’ve come, not least in understanding how best to prevent and address harm in children’s lives”.

She said: “We should be very honest with ourselves as parliamentarians – only a few years ago, we wouldn’t be here with a consensus right across this chamber that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised.

“Now our discussions are about what age to raise criminal responsibility to and on what safeguards and other issues need to be addressed. That is a significant and welcome shift.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell urged the Scottish Government to progress with caution and not be swayed to raise the age beyond the internationally recommended 12.

He said: “In many senses, this Bill is simply an attempt to tidy up our legal system and reflects the fact that a significant change was made in policy some time ago.

“It is of course tempting to look at other European nations and to try to consider ourselves behind when it comes to this legislation but I think that is a false conclusion to draw.

“It’s about looking at children’s rights and the way our legal system operates in the round, and that’s how we best identify the positive steps that can be taken.

“We are on a journey and part of that journey is about making progress and moving at a pace that allows everyone to sign up and support initiatives.”

Meanwhile, Labour’s Daniel Johnson said it was important Scotland complied with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Child and “that we seek to prevent our most vulnerable children and young people from being exposed to the harmful effects of the criminal justice system”.

He added: “This is an area of law that needs to remain under constant review to make sure that the children’s justice system is doing what it was set up to do.”