Special forum to consider age of criminal responsibility

Ministers plan to set up a group to consider if the age of criminal responsibility should be increased beyond 12 – the age currently proposed by the Scottish Government in legislation going through Holyrood.

A special forum, which will include groups working with children and young people, is being proposed to consider the issue, Children’s Minister Maree Tood confirmed.

She announced the move three months after SNP MSPs on Holyood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee voted against increasing the age at which children can be help responsible for their actions in the courts to either 14 or 16.

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

Legislation is going through the Scottish Parliament to increase this to 12.

Ms Todd said the advisory group being proposed by ministers would review the age of criminal responsibility within three years of it being increased.

The Children’s Minister said: “We are committed to protecting and promoting the rights and interests of children and young people.

“The Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill will raise Scotland’s age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12 years old.

“Raising the age will mean Scotland is leading the way in the UK, ensuring no child under 12 will be treated as a criminal or accrue a criminal record.”

She added: “The Bill has enjoyed broad support throughout the parliamentary stages though some have advocated the age should be higher still.

“The advisory group will review the future age of criminal responsibility within three years of the bill becoming law, making sure that any increase would protect the interests of children, young people, victims and communities.

“I am also keen to ensure that the review benefits from the views and experiences of children and young people.”

In January, Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton put forward amendments to raise the age further but these were voted down by SNP and Tory MSPs on the committee.

He will make another attempt to increase it when the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill goes before the Parliament for final approval.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “Instead of kicking another generation of children’s rights into the long grass, Parliament should back my amendments next week and raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14.

“It’s wrong that vulnerable children, whose mistakes can often be traced to circumstances outwith their control, can find themselves being punished for the rest of their lives.”