Liberal Democrat Alison McInnes has launched a bid to increase the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland. At present, the age is set at eight years old, which McInnes describes as “woefully outdated”. She would like to see the age increased to 12. As part of this bid, McInnes has written to Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, and has also put forward amendments to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.
Her primary concern with the law in its current state is that children as young as eight years old could be given a criminal record. She argues that this is far too young an age for a person to be penalised in such a way. She also mentioned that a criminal record could significantly limit their opportunities, and called the practice “inappropriate and destructive”.
The age of criminal responsibility dictates when a child is old enough to stand trial and or be convicted of a criminal offence. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the age of criminal responsibility is set at 10. McInnes argues that 12 is more appropriate and states that it’s the “absolute minimum” required by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
It’s worth noting that Scottish law was changed in 2010 in such a way that no one under the age of 12 can be prosecuted in the criminal courts. Children between the age of eight and 11 are handled through the children’s hearing system.
As for why it is so crucial for the age to be shifted, McInnes said, “Children at risk of falling into destructive patterns of behaviour need to be supported, not prosecuted. Early intervention is key to ensuring that we help children get on in life. The current rules allow for children as young as eight to get a criminal record. That cannot be right.”