Criminal responsibility

Photo by Lionello DelPiccolo on Unsplash

For many years, Scotland has had one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the developed world i.e. a child must reach the age of 8 before they could be found guilty of a criminal offence. Although criminal responsibility begins at the age of 8, a child cannot be prosecuted until s/he reaches the age of 12.

Kenny McAskill the former MSP and Scottish Justice Secretary announced proposals (contained in the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill) in March 2009 to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 12 in order to bring Scots criminal law into line with most of Europe.  Elish Angiolini QC, a former Lord Advocate, had supported this reform as she had previously criticised the current age of criminal responsibility as too low. That said, the eventual Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 did not raise the age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12. The 2010 Act reaffirmed the fact that criminal responsibility begins at the age of 8, but children should not be prosecuted until they were 12 years of age. In England and Wales, by comparison, the age of criminal responsibility continues to be set at 10.

The Scottish Government has now reviewed the age of criminal responsibility and changes will shortly be introduced.

The reason for this is the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. This Bill was originally introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 18 March 2018 and has now passed Stage 2 as recently as 19 February 2019.

Barring any problems, the Bill should proceed to Stage 3 and then become law. When the eventual Act is passed, criminal responsibility in Scotland will be set at 12.

Watch this space.

Progress of the Bill can be tracked on the Scottish Parliament’s website:

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 27 February 2019

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A legal blog by the author of Introductory Scots Law: Theory & Practice (3rd Edition: 2017; Hodder Gibson) Sean J. Crossan BA (Hons), LLB (Hons), MSc, TQFE I have been teaching law in Higher and Further Education for nearly 25 years. I also worked as an employment law consultant in a Glasgow law firm for over a decade. I am also a trade union representative and continue to make full use of my legal background. I am a graduate and postgraduate of the Universities of Dundee, London and Strathclyde. Please note that this Blog provides a general commentary about issues in Scots Law. It is not intended as a substitute for in-depth legal advice. If you have a specific legal problem, you should always consult a suitably qualified Scottish solicitor who will be able to provide you with the support that you require.

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