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

The Age of Criminal Responsibility

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

In a previous blog (Criminal Responsibility published on 27 February 2019), I commented on the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill which was then proceeding through the Scottish Parliament. At the time of writing my previous blog, this Bill had completed Stage 2 of the legislative process.

The purpose of the Bill was to raise the age in Scotland when people become responsible for acts or omissions which are deemed to be criminal in nature. Scotland had one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in Europe (and the rest of the world). The aim of the Bill was to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 8 years to 12.

The Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 7 May 2019 (completing Stage 3 of the legislative process) and will soon become the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019. So, the age of criminal responsibility is now going to be set at 12 years of age in Scotland.

A link to the Bill as passed by the Scottish Parliament can be found below:

https://www.parliament.scot/S5_Bills/Age%20of%20Criminal%20Responsibility%20(Scotland)%20Bill/SPBill29BS052019.pdf

The Scottish Government has stated that it will review the age of criminal responsibility in 3 years time, with a possible view to raising it.

In evidence given to Equalities and Human Rights Committee of the Scottish Parliament during the passage of the Bill, it was pointed out that the United Nations had been critical of Scotland’s longstanding position on the age of criminal responsibility and had demanded that it should be raised.

Obviously, children can commit dreadful acts – which if committed by an adult would normally be dealt with by the criminal justice system in Scotland. Murders and other awful offences have been committed by children and such situations will still have to be addressed. We only have to think about the murder of the toddler, James Bolger in 1993 in England. The Scottish Government will argue that the new Act has measures in place to deal with such situations. It will be interesting to see how the law develops in this area.

A link to an article on the BBC website which covered the passing of the Act can be found below:

Age of criminal responsibility raised from eight to 12

MSPs unanimously back law which means primary school-aged children will no longer be arrested.

Postscript

Readers can look at a short video on the BBC News website where the Chairman of Scouts Scotland argues that it is not useful in the longer term to stigmatise some children by describing them as criminals:

Scouts chairman: Labelling children criminal ‘impacts life’

Labelling a child a criminals can “impact the rest of their life”, says Scouts Scotland Chair Moray MacDonald.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 8 and 13 May 2019

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:

https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/107986.aspx

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 27 February 2019