The Law Society of Scotland Supports Recommendation to Raise Age of Criminal Responsibility

Date: 15th June 2016
Category: Age of criminal responsibility

Raising the age of criminal responsibility would bring consistency across Scots Law, according to the Law Society of Scotland. Together are a part of the Independent Advisory Group that has recently released its report on raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Scotland.

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. This means that Scotland has one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world at aged 8 and the Law Society has welcomed recommendations to increase it.

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.

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.

Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Law Society of Scotland's Criminal Law Committee, said in a recent news release: "Scotland's age of criminal responsibility is currently the lowest in Europe and we fully support the advisory group's recommendation to raise it from age eight to 12. The interests of the child must be paramount and it is crucial that their welfare is the focus of attention even in the difficult circumstances of offending behaviour. We do not think that children under the age of 12 should have their actions recorded as criminal.

"There are also inconsistencies in our law in that the age of criminal responsibility is currently eight years, but the age at which a child can be prosecuted is 12. This creates confusion in people's understanding of criminal law and how it relates to children."

Mr Cruickshank added: "The current age of criminal responsibility is out of kilter with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. While the convention does not specify an age of criminal responsibility, which ranges from age seven or eight to 16 across different countries, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child made its position clear when it said that setting the age below 12 was 'not to be internationally acceptable'."

A Scottish Government consultation on whether to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 has recently been held.