From 8 to 12

Photo by Michael Skok on Unsplash

Blink and you might have missed it.

Missed what?

From today (29 November 2019), the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland rises from 8 to 12. This Act of the Scottish Parliament was only passed in May.

Before introducing the original Bill, the Scottish Government had previously carried out a public consultation about raising the age of criminal responsibility. This exercise opened on 18 March 2016 and closed on 17 June 2016.

The Scottish Government heralded the results of the consultation exercise as demonstrating overwhelming support for its proposal (95% of respondents agreed), but only 74 responses were received in total.

True, important organisations which are involved in the criminal justice system (such as Police Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland) did respond, but many local authorities did not.

Links to a press release from the Scottish Government about the consultation and the report which resulted from it can be found below:

https://consult.gov.scot/youth-justice/minimum-age-of-criminal-responsibility/

https://www2.gov.scot/Resource/0051/00510795.pdf

Historically, Scotland had one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the Western World. The Act now means that Scotland falls more into line with other countries.

Not everyone thinks the Act goes far enough: Bruce Adamson, the Scottish Children’s Commissioner had argued that the reform should go further and that the age of responsibility for criminal behaviour should be raised to 14. Mr Adamson argued that this would bring Scotland into line with the international standard.

https://www.scottishlegal.com/article/children-s-commissioner-argues-12-is-not-an-acceptable-age-of-criminal-responsibility

Interestingly, this reform means that England and Wales and Northern Ireland now have a lower criminal age of responsibility (10) than Scotland.

Examining the bigger picture, the number of children aged 8-11 who have been referred to the Children’s Reporter for committing an offence in Scotland has fallen dramatically from a high of about 800 (2010/11) to about 200 (2016/2017) as the Scottish Government’s own figures demonstrate (see below).

A link to the new Act of Parliament can be found below:

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2019/7/contents

It is also worth emphasising that the scope of the new Act goes further than merely raising the age of criminal responsibility – as the preamble to the original Bill makes clear:

[A] Bill for an Act of the Scottish Parliament to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years and to make consequential changes to the law on the disclosure of criminal records and on disclosure of information about individuals working or seeking to work with children or certain adults; on the provision of information by the Principal Reporter to persons adversely affected by the behaviour of children; on the taking of certain children to a place of safety by the police; on the search of certain children by the police; on police interviews with certain children; and on the taking of forensic samples from certain children by the police; and for connected purposes.”

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 29 November 2019