The age of criminal responsibility in Scotland has faced a lot of controversy over the years. In theory, a legislative change from 2019, raised the age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12 years old. However, 2 years on and this has still not been fully implemented. This means children as young as 8 can still be held responsible for their criminal actions. This is the lowest age in Europe and significantly lower than the recommended age of 14 in terms of international human rights standards.
Children's Minister Clare Haughey has confirmed that by the 17th of December this year, the Act will be fully implemented and the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland will officially change to 12. This will stop children aged 8 to 11 being referred to the Children’s Hearings System on the ground that they have committed an offence. Unsurprisingly, many children and human rights activists are saying this is still not good enough and are calling for it to be raised to at least 14.
There are a variety of reasons for these calls to increase the age to 14. Obviously, there are concerns around a child’s maturity at 12 and the impact their emotional and behavioural development may have on their self-control. However, there have also been various studies exploring the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on children. This research draws parallels between young people who display harmful behaviours and those who are highly vulnerable and/or have experiences of trauma and adversity.
Protecting children from early criminalisation is important. Children are vulnerable to how society treats them. For example, labelling children as ‘offenders’ will likely have an effect on how they view themselves and ultimately could result in their reoffending. A child’s behaviour is quite often linked to its environment.
At Thorntons we do all we can to support the welfare of children and young people. If you have any questions or if you know someone who you think may benefit from advice or support, Thorntons have a number of family law solicitors across Scotland who would be happy to help. Contact Thea Pock or any member of the Family Law team on 03330 430150.