Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee is unanimously backing the general principles of a Bill that will raise the minimum age at which a young person can be held criminally responsible to 12. Currently, that age is eight.
The proposals, brought forward by the Scottish Government, would lift Scotland from having the lowest age of criminal responsibility in Europe, and bring the age of criminal responsibility into line with the minimum age of prosecution. Further, raising the age to 12 ensures Scotland will comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
However, the Committee is urging the Scottish Government to amend the Bill to prohibit the use of police cells for children who are being taken to a ‘place of safety’.
The Bill also tackles the issue of childhood convictions being disclosed in adult life. These disclosures potentially limit training or job opportunities available to people affected, and damage their life chances further.
Speaking as the report was published, Equalities and Human Rights Committee Convener, Ruth Maguire MSP, said:
“The Committee is very supportive of raising the age at which children and young people become criminally responsible for their actions. We recognise that many children enter the criminal justice system because of trauma they have suffered in their young lives.
“There was strong support for raising the age from different groups who came to give us evidence. Some of the compelling evidence we heard has given Members a real sense of urgency.
“While harmful behaviours from young people must be addressed, we do not believe that criminalising a child before they turn 12 is a helpful intervention.”
A table for comparison with other European countries is here:
10 Rest of UK
12 Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands
14 Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Rep of Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Greece. Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain
15 Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Sweden
16 Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portgugal
Further information on the Committee’s consideration is available at this link.