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Age of Criminal Responsibility to be Raised to 12 in Scotland

A Holyrood committee of MSPs has backed a bill, published in March this year, to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland from eight years old to 12. Scotland's age of criminal responsibility is two years younger than the rest of the UK and Europe.

Current legislation in Scotland means that children aged between 8 and 11 are unable to be prosecuted in the criminal courts; instead, they can be referred to the children’s hearing systems on both offence and non-offence grounds. Conversely, children aged between 12 and 16 can be prosecuted in criminal courts or children’s hearings subject to guidelines by the Lord Advocate.

Scotland has previously faced criticism from human rights organisations such as the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child for its exceedingly low age of criminal responsibility. The UN committee suggested that 12 would be a minimum age recognised as internationally acceptable.

A previous attempt to raise the age was made in 2016 in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. However, there were concerns raised about the certainty of factors including disclosure of criminal records, forensic samples, police investigatory powers, and victim’s rights.

The new bill aims to overcome the issue of childhood convictions being disclosed in adult life, which can potentially limit the number of opportunities for those affected.

Ruth Maguire MSP, the Equalities and Human Rights Committee convener, has expressed the committee’s support for raising the minimum age to 12, stating “criminalising a child before they turn 12 [is not] a helpful intervention”.

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