Raising the age of criminal responsibility would bring consistency across Scots Law, according to the Law Society of Scotland.
Scotland has one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world at aged eight and the Law Society has welcomed recommendations to increase it.
In 2015 at stage two of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, an amendment had been tabled to raise the criminal age of responsibility from eight to 12 to bring it into line with the age of criminal prosecution. It was defeated on the basis that the Scottish Government agreed to further consultation on the issue.
The Scottish Government advisory group that was set up to consider the issue, has consulted on a series of recommendations in relation to the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Criminal Law Committee, said: “Scotland’s age of criminal responsibility is currently the lowest in Europe and we fully support the advisory group’s recommendation to raise it from age eight to 12. The interests of the child must be paramount and it is crucial that their welfare is the focus of attention even in the difficult circumstances of offending behaviour. We do not think that children under the age of 12 should have their actions recorded as criminal.
“There are also inconsistencies in our law in that the age of criminal responsibility is currently eight years, but the age at which a child can be prosecuted is 12. This creates confusion in people’s understanding of criminal law and how it relates to children.”
Mr Cruickshank added: “The current age of criminal responsibility is out of kilter with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. While the convention does not specify an age of criminal responsibility, which ranges from age seven or eight to 16 across different countries, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child made its position clear when it said that setting the age below 12 was ‘not to be internationally acceptable’.”
The Law Society has also commented on the scope of police powers in relation to raising the age of criminal responsibility.
Mr Cruickshank said: “We have concerns about the advisory group’s suggestion that the police should have an unspecified power of detention, where a child’s parents or carers are not willing to cooperate with necessary enquires by police or social work.
“While we believe that the police should retain some powers, as they still need to investigate the nature and extent of any alleged harmful behaviour, we think there should be a general presumption against taking forensic samples from children aged eight to 11. In exceptional cases where police are of the view that forensic samples should be obtained, we believe an application for a warrant should be obtained from a sheriff and that any samples taken should not be retained.”
The Law Society’s full response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the minimum age of criminal responsibility is available to read on the website: Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility response