Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility

Date: 30th March 2016
Category: Age of criminal responsibility

Together are a part of the Independent Advisory Group that has recently released its report on the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Scotland. The key recommendation is that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised from 8 to 12 years as soon as possible. A Scottish Government consultation is now open on whether to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12.

The age of criminal responsibility is a significant and complex policy area, which raises sensitivities due to the potential for rare, serious cases involving young children. Children under 12 cannot be prosecuted in court in Scotland, but those aged 8 and over can be referred to the children's hearings system on offence grounds.

The Scottish Government established an Advisory Group in Autumn 2015 (of which Together's Director is a member) to give detailed consideration to the issues and implications associated with the minimum age of criminal responsibility, and to make sure they could be properly addressed in advance of a consultation. That Group's role has been to consider the implications of raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12 and to produce a report which will form the basis of this consultation.

Information on the membership, terms of reference and work of the group is available here.

The Advisory Group's report has recommended that the age of criminal responsibility be raised from 8 to 12, and that such a move is accompanied by a number of proposed supporting safeguards. The Group has considered the underlying policy, legal and procedural implications of raising the age of criminal responsibility and made recommendations around (i) care, protection and risk management, (ii) the role of the children's hearings system, (iii) disclosure and (iv) police powers.

The key recommendations from the Advisory Group are:

- Raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12 years, accompanied by safeguards to maintain system cohesion and reinforce victim and public confidence;

- No change is required to current Children's Hearings grounds for referral in anticipation of any MACR change, because one or more of the other existing grounds could be applied.

- Police should continue to be able to investigate incidents, and new procedural safeguards - adapted from child protection rather than criminal justice - should support children and families through that process;

- Where children under 12 display harmful behaviour the focus should be on care, protection and wellbeing to address risk as part of a GIRFEC approach;

- Non-conviction information relating to harmful behaviour involving children under 12 can be disclosed in exceptional circumstances, subject to independent ratification; and

- Any changes should not adversely affect victims' rights. If needed, new provisions should be created for people harmed by children, including other children.