Raising to 12 the Age of Criminal Responsibility

childIn Scotland a child 8 years and over can be held criminally responsible for its actions should it break the law. This is the lowest in Europe and is about to change. The Scottish Government will be raising the age to 12. The  Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill is currently at stage 1 in its passage through the Scottish Parliament.

Maree Todd , Early Years Minister in the Scottish Parliament said:

“All children deserve the best possible start in life and this legislation marks a key milestone in Scotland’s journey to ensure children are respected and valued.

Maree Todd“We know the actions of children who harm others are often a symptom of trauma in their own lives and that accruing a criminal record actually drives more offending. This legislation will help turn around the lives of troubled, primary school age children – who are often vulnerable themselves – by addressing their deeds in the context of supporting their needs.

“Importantly, the bill contains measures to provide reassurance to victims and communities that serious incidents will still be responded to appropriately.”

The Bill is wider than the issue of the age of criminal responsibility.

“The response in Scotland to harmful behaviour of children should be seen in the context of Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) – including the Whole System Approach (WSA) to youth justice, which encompasses ―early and effective intervention‖ (EEI).” Policy Memorandum

The Bill covers:

  1. Age of Criminal Responsibility
  2. Disclosure of Convictions and Other Information Relating to Time when Person Under 12
  3. Victim Information
  4. Police Investigatory and Other Powers

If passed the Bill will introduce changes in Scotland in how we respond to children who have committed unlawful acts.

  • fewer children entering the criminal justice system as they grow into adulthood
  • the age of criminal responsibility will be brought into line with the current minimum age of prosecution in Scotland
  • any information on harmful or concerning behaviour involving children under the age of 12 will no longer be disclosed automatically but will be subject to independent review on a case by case basis
  • harmful behaviour involving children under 12 will continue to be addressed with bespoke new measures introduced to ensure police can thoroughly investigate the most serious incidents
  • victims of harm will continue to receive appropriate support and information

A committee of the Scottish Parliament will be consulting to find out more opinions from groups and individuals about this move.

The Equalities and Human Rights cross party committee is particularly interested in hearing the views of young people and of former young offenders.

 Christina McKelvie MSP, Committee Convener, said:

“The age you become responsible for your actions is fundamental to the criminal justice system and could have a major impact on a young person’s life.

“Balancing the rights of young people, victims of crime and wider society means that there is a lot of important detail in this legislation. That’s why we want to hear from as many people as possible.

“The whole Committee would want to see a safe society and the rights of young people respected – we need to work out how best to achieve that aim.”

The committee is seeking responses to the following questions:

  1. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends that the age of criminal responsibility is a minimum of 12 years old, which the Bill adheres to. What are your views on the appropriate age of criminal responsibility in Scotland?
  2. The Bill makes a number of changes relating to the disclosure of offences and provides that any conduct by a child below the age of 12 (should the ACR be increased) that would previously have been recorded as a conviction will no longer be recorded as such. The Bill does however, allow for disclosure of ‘other relevant information’ held by the police about pre-12 behaviour. The Committee would welcome views on whether the Bill strikes the right balance in terms of addressing offending behaviour by young children under 12 and the disclosure of such information.
  3. The Bill provides that children under 12 who are subject to a police interview will have the right to have an advocacy worker present during the interview. What will the impact be on your organisation or on the children you work with who might access the advocacy service?
  4. Raising the age of criminal responsibility would necessitate a number of changes in relation to information which can be provided to victims. The Bill seeks to balance the best interests of victims (including child victims) and the best interests of the child responsible for any harm caused. Again, the Committee would welcome views on whether an appropriate balance in this area has been achieved.
  5. Part 4 of the Bill relates to police powers and provides a package of powers designed to ensure that serious behaviour by any child under the age of 12 can be investigated but that such investigations are carried out in a child-centred way. Those powers include, amongst other things, the taking of forensic samples, removing a child to a place of safety and the power to search children. The Bill restricts the application of most of these powers so that they are only available to the police in the most serious of cases. The Committee would welcome views on the approach taken to police powers in the Bill.

Template for your responses: Submissions_-_DP_Form_and_template_v2

Scottish Parliament

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Closing date: Friday 22nd June 2018

email: equalities.humanrights@parliament.scot

or write to:
Equalities and Human Rights Committee
Room T3.40, Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, EH99 1SP


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