Age of criminal responsibility in Scotland to increase from eight to 12 from next month

The age of criminal responsibility in Scotland will be increased from eight to 12 next month, ministers have confirmed.

Children’s minister Clare Haughey confirmed the change – which was part of legislation approved by Holyrood in May 2019 – would come fully into force from December 17.

The move will give Scotland the highest age of criminal responsibility in the UK – with this set at 10 years in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Other parts of the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act which mean children under 12 years old can not be considered an “offender” have already been implemented.

Ms Hughey hailed the change as “ground-breaking” and said it was an example of Scotland’s “progressive approach”.

She explained a “phased approach” had been taken to implementing the legislation, with ministers doing this as “quickly and safely as possible”.

In a letter to Joe FitzPatrick, the convener of Holyrood’s Equalities Committee, the minister said it had not been possible for a child under 12 to be considered an “offender” since November 29 2019.

“This means that in practice, children have already essentially been removed from most aspects of the criminal process since then,” she said.

“A final set of commencement regulations are being drafted, which will bring all remaining provisions in the Act into force on December 17 2021 and legally increase the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland to 12.”

Ms Haughey said: “This ground-breaking law aims to protect children from the harmful effects of early criminalisation.

“It means primary school-aged children will no longer be stigmatised from being labelled as offenders at such a young age, which will improve their life chances and wellbeing.

“Evidence shows that many children and young people who display harmful behaviours are highly vulnerable and have experienced trauma and adversity. They may have been victims of crime in their own lives.

“Understanding this, and responding with compassion and willingness to work with children will ensure that fewer enter the criminal justice system as they grow up.”

She continued: “The Act has safeguards to ensure that serious harmful behaviour will be investigated appropriately and that victims will continue to get the support they need and to have their voices heard.

“The legislation means Scotland will have the highest age of criminal responsibility in the UK – we are proud to be leading the way in this progressive approach.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton however argued the age of criminal responsibility should be higher.

He stated: “Raising the age to 12 is a step in the right direction but it is not sufficient. I have previously called for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14, if the Scottish Government was serious about this, they would push for the same.

“We all want Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up. That means treating children as children, not criminals.”

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