A new study claims that Scotland’s age of criminal responsibility should be raised in line with the rest of Europe.
The Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice (CYCJ) also argues that children and young people should have their criminal records wiped sooner.
At the moment, the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is just eight. This is among the lowest in the world – only 16 countries have a lower age of criminal responsibility. Moreover, the age of criminal prosecution in Scotland is 12 and the difference between this and the age of criminal responsibility can serve as a source of confusion, the CYCJ said.
The think tank wants to see the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland raised to at least 12. It acknowledged that this is a controversial issue on which people’s views are often polarised, but said that the youth justice sector in Scotland is anxious to see the country comply with international norms.
The grounds for raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility include human rights compliance, inter-jurisdictional consistency, minimising social harm and the decriminalisation of social need, the report stated.
“While many would argue persuasively for an older age of criminal responsibility than 12, we recognise that incremental change is better than no change at all,” it added.
On the issue of when young offenders should have the slate wiped clean, the CYCJ believes that criminal convictions incurred by young people under the age of 18 should not continue to affect their life chances into adulthood when they apply for jobs and training.
In Scotland, the rehabilitation period for almost all sentences is halved if the individual was under 18 at the time of conviction. However, that still means that many of the most vulnerable young people are carrying convictions with them well into adulthood, adding to their exclusion from pro-social or meaningful opportunities. A young person sentenced to more than 30 months’ detention in Scotland will never be legally ‘rehabilitated,’ according to the report.
It added that efforts to reform the existing system are in motion, but in the meantime opportunities for many young people are stifled because of concerns about the behaviour of ‘a critical few.’
“Removing barriers which limit Scottish employers’ willingness to recruit with conviction is imperative,” the report concluded.