The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is to be increased from the present eight years to 12, the Scottish Government has confirmed.
A bill to be brought before Holyrood will see the change implemented in time for Scotland’s Year of Young People in 2018.
Scotland's current minimum age is the lowest in Europe. The long-awaited move follows the recommendation of the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Advisory Group, which reported in March this year, a Scottish Government consultation in which 95% of respondents supported an increase to 12 or above, and is in line with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which has stated that setting the age of criminal responsibility below 12 is considered "not to be internationally acceptable".
The increase will include safeguards to allow the police to deal with and investigate the most serious and exceptional offences involving under 12s.
Announcing the reform, Mark McDonald, Minister for Childcare & Early Years, said: “The case for change is clear and compelling. Having the lowest minimum age of criminal responsibility in Europe does not match with our progressive approach to youth justice and ambitions to give children the best start in life.
“In 2010 we raised the age of criminal prosecution to 12 – meaning no one under the age of 12 will be prosecuted or sentenced in the criminal courts and are instead dealt with through the children’s hearing system.
“Raising the age of criminal responsibility will mean people no longer face potentially damaging and life-altering consequences, such as a criminal record, for events that took place when they were a young child."
He added: “I recognise that in exceptional cases appropriate safeguards are needed. Therefore we will ensure police powers to investigate harmful behaviour by under 12s, while there will be risk management and monitoring measures for those who need it.”
The move has been welcomed by the Law Society of Scotland, for whom Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Criminal Law Committee, commented: "We have argued for several years that a child of eight is too young to be held criminally responsible. Raising the age will bring it in line with the existing age of criminal prosecution in Scotland, providing clarity in the law, and will ensure that children are not treated and then labelled as offenders because of things they did when they were under 12 years old.”