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Holyrood committee backs higher age of criminal responsibility

7 November 2018

A Holyrood committee has lent its support to the bill that will raise the minimum age at which a young person can be held criminally responsible from eight to 12 years.

In its stage 1 report on the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill, the Equalities & Human Rights Committee supports the general principles of the bill, while noting that "some members do so in the knowledge that the bill could be used to raise the age to 14, 16 or 18 years old".

The bill would bring the age of criminal responsibility into line with the minimum age of prosecution, and in raising the age to 12 would ensure Scotland complies with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However it will still leave Scotland’s age of criminal responsibility amongst the lowest in the EU.

Among other provisions, the bill also tackles the issue of childhood convictions being disclosed in adult life. These disclosures potentially limit training or job opportunities available to people affected, and damage their life chances further. And the bill provides for continued powers for police searches of children under 12, and introduces safeguards for children in investigative interviews.

However, in further comments the committee urges the Scottish Government to amend the bill to prohibit the use of police cells for children who are being taken to a "place of safety"; and queries whether sufficient qualified advocacy workers are available for interview situations.

Convener Ruth Maguire MSP said: "The committee is very supportive of raising the age at which children and young people become criminally responsible for their actions. We recognise that many children enter the criminal justice system because of trauma they have suffered in their young lives.

"There was strong support for raising the age from different groups who came to give us evidence. Some of the compelling evidence we heard has given members a real sense of urgency.

"While harmful behaviours from young people must be addressed, we do not believe that criminalising a child before they turn 12 is a helpful intervention."

Click here to view the committee's report.

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