Children ‘shouldn’t be held responsible for crimes before 15’

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
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The SNP’s plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland from eight to 12 do not go far enough and will still leave the country lagging behind the rest of the world, Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner has said.

Bruce Adamson said the Scottish Government must “go further, faster” on the issue, arguing that the age at which children could be held responsible for crimes should be set at around 15.

It strikes me as one of these things that is really strange, and really doesn’t sit with the many positive things in Scotland

Bruce Adamson

In her Programme for Government, Nicola Sturgeon said the SNP would bring forward a Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill over the next year, bringing Scotland “in line with international norms”.

However, the Children’s Commissioner said that raising the age to 12 merely moved Scotland from “absolutely last to jointly at the bottom” of the international table, with many other developed countries setting it significantly higher.

In 2008 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the UK to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 12. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland it is currently set at ten.

“I think [the Scottish Government] needs to go further, faster,” Mr Adamson said. “The UN committee was very clear...that 12 was the absolute minimum that was internationally acceptable.

“I’ve been spending time in some of the Nordic countries that we like to compare ourselves to, and generally they set theirs at about 15. I think it needs to be somewhere between 12 and 18.”

Mr Adamson said “you could argue” that the age of criminal responsibility should be as high as 18, but he did not have a “fixed view”. More than 40 countries set the age above 12, including Columbia, Brazil, Portugal, Sweden, Iceland and Norway.

“It strikes me as one of these things that is really strange, and really doesn’t sit with the many positive things in Scotland,” the Commissioner added.

“It doesn’t sit with where Scotland wants to be or sees itself. I think most people would be quite shocked to hear that we’re the lowest in the world still, and that 12, which the government is putting forward as a solution, still puts us the lowest in the world.

“We go from being absolutely last to jointly at the bottom. I think that probably would surprise a lot of people that we are so out of step.”