Legislation lodged to increase age of criminal responsibility to 12

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The law, expected to pass, would increase the threshold from eight years old to 12.

The legislation has been introduced at the Scottish Parliament (David Cheskin/PA)

The age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is set to rise from eight years old to 12, under a new law introduced at Holyrood.

The proposed legislation would change the age from being the lowest in Europe to being in line with the UN’s minimum internationally acceptable age of criminal responsibility.

In the rest of the UK the age threshold is 10.

Scotland Children’s Commissioner, Bruce Adamson, has said raising the age to 12 does not go far enough.

At present, children under the age of 12 cannot be prosecuted in court in Scotland, but those aged eight and over can be referred to the children’s hearings system for offending and can end up with a criminal record.

Under the new law, expected to pass, “bespoke new measures” will be brought in to ensure police can investigate the “most serious” incidents involving children under 12, the Scottish Government said in a statement.

Information on harmful behaviour involving children of that age will no longer be disclosed automatically but will be subject to independent review on a case by case basis.


An advisory group set up by the Scottish Government in 2015 recommended the age of criminal responsibility be raised to 12 and 95% of responses to a consultation on the proposal last year were in favour of an increase to this age or older.

The new legislation was one of the pledges in the Programme for Government announced by Nicola Sturgeon in September.

“We know the actions of children who harm others are often a symptom of trauma in their own lives and that accruing a criminal record actually drives more offending.


“This legislation will help turn around the lives of troubled, primary school age children – who are often vulnerable themselves – by addressing their deeds in the context of supporting their needs.

“Importantly, the bill contains measures to provide reassurance to victims and communities that serious incidents will still be responded to appropriately.”

Mr Adamson added: “I’m pleased that Scotland will no longer be the only country in Europe where an eight year-old can be treated as a criminal.

“However, raising the age to 12 still leaves us with one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world.

“If Scotland is to be the best country to grow up in, we need to raise the age of criminal responsibility beyond 12 to make sure we support children rather than treat them as criminals.”

The Greens and the Liberal Democrats are backing the increase, also welcomed by Children’s Hearing Scotland, while the Conservatives said they “look forward to analysing the evidence”.

Tory Justice Secretary Liam Kerr added: “There’s no question that Scotland does have a lower-than-normal age of criminal responsibility.

“But any decision must consider a range of factors, not least victims of crime.”

His Lib Dem counterpart Liam McArthur, whose party twice attempted to raise the age to 12 during the last parliament but were defeated by the SNP and Tories, praised the move calling it “a very welcome u-turn away from a Victorian attitude to justice”.

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