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Age of criminal responsibility raised to 12 years in Scotland

2nd Dec 2016

The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is to be raised to 12 years. The age will now be in line with UN standards, after the current minimum age of eight, the lowest in Europe, was labelled a “national embarrassment”.

A consultation with police, prosecutors and victims’ groups revealed that 95% supported an increase to the age of 12 or above.

In 2010, the Scottish government raised the age of criminal prosecution to 12, assuring that no one under that age could be prosecuted or sentenced in the criminal courts but would be dealt with through children’s hearings. However, those outcomes would still be added to children’s criminal records.

Mark McDonald, minister for childcare and early year said that “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.”

He added that he recognised the need for safeguards in exceptional cases, and confirmed that police would still have powers to investigate serious offences committed by children under the age of 12.

The minimum age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10. The UN committee on the rights of the child has stated that setting the age of criminal responsibility below 12 is not “internationally acceptable”.

The acting chair of the Scottish youth parliament, Amy Lee Fraioli MSYP, stated that “Raising the age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12 is an important step towards fully incorporating the UN convention on the rights of the child into Scots law.”

“Many children who find themselves in children’s hearings are also victims themselves, and are often ill-equipped to deal with the situations they find themselves in,” she continued. “Raising the age will help ensure that Scotland is a fair place for children, and shift focus to supporting children instead of criminalising them.”