The age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is the lowest in all over Europe. An 8-year old child can be held criminally responsible, and a 12-year old child can be prosecuted. Whatever decision made by children’s hearing can be part of their criminal record, which can have serious consequences – a vulnerable child can turn into offenders.
This is why there is a bid to increase the age at which children should be held criminally responsible. The United Nations committee on the rights of the child have raised this concern eight years since, but it is only recently that the Scottish Government advisory committee strongly recommended change.
Ministers, however, would have to wait for the results of a consultation exercise before they can commit to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years old.
Some people still contend that a child should know the difference between right and wrong.
But the statistics tell a different story.
- 25% of children in violation of the law in 2013 and referred to children’s hearing system are victims of sexual or physical abuse.
- 70% of the issues that were brought to the attention of the Children’s Reporter were not offences, but related to how children are being looked after.
- 60% of offences can be considered a one-off incident and not part of a wider pattern behaviour.
- 81% of the non-isolated cases were reported by parents themselves, describing their children a ‘risk to them’.
The Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration said that when a child is determined as unable to differentiate right from wrong, they tend to judge the people who brought them up. It is unrealistic to expect a child to overcome incorrect early conditioning as early as 8 years old.
The age of responsibility in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is set at 10 years old, 2 years higher than that of Scotland. In the state of New York, USA, it is set at 16 years old, and lawmakers are debating to raise it to 18.