Scotland politics

Reform call on Scottish age of criminal responsibility

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An MSP is bidding to increase the age at which children can be held responsible for their crimes.

Liberal Democrat Alison McInnes wants to see the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland rise from eight years to the age of 12.

In an effort to bring about the change, she has put forward amendments to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.

The Scottish Government said the age of criminal responsibility remained "under active consideration".

As part of her campaign, Ms McInnes has written to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson.

She argued the law as it stands means it is possible for children as young as eight to get a criminal record.

Law 'woefully outdated'

This could "limit their opportunities" in later life and is both "inappropriate and destructive", the Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman added.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the age of criminal responsibility - when a child is considered capable of committing a crime and old enough to stand trial and be convicted of an offence - is set higher, at 10 years old.

However, Ms McInnes said 12 years old is the "absolute minimum" expected by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

In Scotland, children can be prosecuted in the courts from the age of 12, but youngsters aged eight and above can be referred to a children's hearing - where decisions made can become part of a criminal record.

Ms McInnes said: "The law, as it currently stands, is woefully outdated in its perception of children's capacity to make decisions, understand and be deemed responsible for their actions.

"It is not a fair or progressive reflection of the emotional, mental and intellectual maturity of young children."

'Implications are complex'

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "In 2010 we changed the law so no one under the age of 12 can ever be prosecuted in the criminal courts.

"The change raised the minimum age of prosecution from the age of eight which we considered to be too low.

"Children aged between eight and 11 facing allegations of having committed an offence can be dealt with by the children's hearing system, which takes an approach centred on the child's welfare and best interests.

"The age of criminal responsibility remains under active consideration and the policy, legislative and procedural implications of a change in Scotland are complex.

"Consideration is ongoing and has centred on police investigatory powers, forensic sampling, disclosure and risk management into adulthood, along with developing responses to concerns around victims and community confidence.

"There is a particular need to retain confidence where eight to 11-year-olds are involved in the most serious violent or sexual cases. Further consultation will be required on any future change in respect of minimum age."

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