CHILDREN as young as eight are being “tarnished” by criminal records which haunt them all their lives, according to charities in Scotland who are demanding change.
Scotland has the youngest age of criminal responsibility in Europe and there are fears the country’s international reputation is being damaged.
The group, which includes Barnardo’s, Aberlour and the NSPCC, are now calling for ministers to back moves to raise the age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12.
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInness will today bring forward changes to the Criminal Justice Bill at Holyrood that would implement the change.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, head of policy at children’s charity Aberlour, said: “This is actually quite a small change, but a very important one.
“It would mean that those under 12 who admit committing an offence when they appear before a Children’s Panel won’t be tarnished with a criminal record that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
“As it stands, you can still get a criminal record at the age of eight for a minor offence like vandalism. This record will seriously impact on your life chances as it will stop you from becoming things like a teacher or a nurse. It could even stop you visiting countries with strict visa rules, like America.”
The current age at which youngsters can be prosecuted in court was recently raised from eight to 12. But if a child under 12 but over eight is referred to a hearing on offence grounds, and they admit the offence, they can end up with a criminal record.
The charities say the change being proposed by Ms McInnes will close this loophole and make good on commitments made to the United Nations by the Scottish Government to legislate for this change in the life of this parliament.
Ms McInnes’ amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill will be debated by the Justice Committee as part of Stage 2 proceedings today.
She said: “Scotland has the youngest age of criminal responsibility in Europe and has fallen a long way behind international best practice.
“Criminalising children as young as eight has ‘long tarnished’ our international reputation according to Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People and the UN has stated that the age of criminal responsibility should be at least 12.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said there is a “particular need” to retain confidence where eight- to 11-year-olds are involved in the most serious violent or sexual cases.
But she added: “The age of criminal responsibility remains under active consideration and the policy, legislative and procedural implications of a change in Scotland are complex.”
Although conviction can become spent very quickly, it may still have to be disclosed. Such disclosures must contain all conviction information, spent and unspent, including cautions. It means individuals can be barred from careers in later life which require an enhanced disclosure such as nursing and teaching, because of something they did when they were eight.