The age a young person can be held responsible for their actions in the eyes of the law is to be examined by Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee.
Although Scotland’s current age of criminal responsibility, the lowest in Europe at eight years old, is set to be raised by the Scottish Government, the Committee is seeking views on the new proposals.
The Committee is looking to hear from academics, people working in the criminal justice sector, victims of crime, and crucially young people and former young offenders. A toolkit for teachers and youth group leaders will be produced to help this to happen.
Speaking as the call for evidence was launched, Committee Convener Christina McKelvie MSP, 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 asking not only for views on raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12, as the Scottish Government has proposed. It also wants to look at the disclosure of offences committed by under-12s; whether the new rules achieve an appropriate balance for victims; and the suitability of police powers to deal with behaviour by under-12s.
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.
The current Age of Criminal Responsibility is not the age from which children can be subject to the criminal justice system. While the ACR in Scotland is eight, the age of prosecution is 12; that is the age from which children can be prosecuted in court in respect of criminal offences. Children over 12 but under 16 can only be prosecuted in court on the instructions of the Lord Advocate.
While children under 12 cannot be prosecuted in court in Scotland, a child can be held responsible for a crime from the age of eight. The acceptance or establishment that an offence has been committed by a child aged eight or over is later disclosable as a conviction – potentially affecting the child’s life chances in the years thereafter.