Scotland’s age of criminal responsibility is rising to 12. Now, it needs to go higher than the “absolute minimum” acceptable

The age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is set to rise from 8 to 12— but the Children and Young People’s Commissioner has said it still has further to rise.

Legislation has been proposed today in the Scottish Parliament that will raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

But Commissioner Bruce Adamson has said the new legislation does not go far enough, as it merely sets the age to the “absolute minimum” considered acceptable by the United Nations.

The Commissioner said:

I’m pleased that Scotland will no longer be the only country in Europe where an eight-year-old can be treated as a criminal.

However, raising the age to 12 still leaves us with one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world.

The UN has been very clear that having an age of criminal responsibility under 12 is not internationally acceptable.

Over a decade ago, it called for increases above that absolute minimum.

Taking a criminal response to a child’s harmful behaviour doesn’t lead to better outcomes for the child or those affected by that child’s actions.

Only by taking a preventative approach can we ensure that children get the support they need to address harmful or challenging behaviour.

Along with raising the age of criminal responsibility higher than 12, more efforts need to be made to intervene early, helping families in crisis and supporting children at risk, to address the root causes of the behaviour.

Research shows that many of these children have complex or traumatic childhood experiences, so we need community-based early intervention services that are well-resourced and quickly accessed, particularly mental health and intensive support services.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to continuing to progress raising the age of criminal responsibility further.

If Scotland is to be the best country to grow up in, we need to raise the age of criminal responsibility beyond 12 to make sure we support children rather than treat them as criminals.

Back to top