Age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 12

Date: 13th December 2016
Category: Age of criminal responsibility

As repeatedly called for in Together's annual State of Children's Rights reports, the age of criminal responsibility is to be increased from 8 to 12 years old.

The plan was set out by the Minister for Childcare & Early Years.

At eight years old, Scotland currently has the lowest minimum age of criminal responsibility in Europe and this move will bring the country in line with UN and international standards. The minimum age in England and Wales is 10.

The increase will include safeguards to allow the police to deal with and investigate the most serious and exceptional offences involving under 12s.

Earlier this year, a Scottish Government consultation found 95% of respondents supported an increase to 12 or above. Mark McDonald today announced plans for legislation that would raise the age in a statement to Parliament.

He said:

"The case for change is clear and compelling. Having the lowest minimum age of criminal responsibility in Europe does not match with our progressive approach to youth justice and ambitions to give children the best start in life.

"In 2010 we raised the age of criminal prosecution to 12 - meaning no one under the age of 12 will be prosecuted or sentenced in the criminal courts and are instead dealt with through the Children's Hearing System.

"Raising the age of criminal responsibility will mean people no longer face potentially damaging and life-altering consequences, such as a criminal record, for events that took place when they were a young child.

"I recognise that in exceptional cases appropriate safeguards are needed. Therefore we will ensure police powers to investigate harmful behaviour by under 12s, while there will be risk management and monitoring measures for those who need it."


The intention is to bring forward a bill, with the change implemented in time for Scotland's Year of Young People in 2018.

A consultation exercise took place from March to June with the 95% supporting an increase to 12 or above. Respondents included the police, prosecutors, victim groups and Who Cares? Scotland.

Further engagement events with more than 200 children and young people, including victims, took place over June and July also found support for the increase.

The decision to raise the age was informed by the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Advisory Group, which included those working with children and with victims, as well as the Police and Crown Office. It reported in March and a key recommendation was to raise the minimum age to 12, accompanied by safeguards. Together's Director is a member of the Advisory Group.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has stated that setting the age of criminal responsibility below 12 is considered 'not to be internationally acceptable'.

Together's 2016 State of Children's Rights report noted concern that the minimum age of criminal responsibility had still not been raised in line with international standards and that raising the age from 8 to 12 should be seen as a starting point on a journey to remove all children from the criminal justice system.