Includem’s Policy Manager, Michael Shanks, outlines why raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 12 is an important step forward for Scotland.
Includem welcomed the opportunity to participate in the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility and to contribute our experiences to the initial stages of the process.
We also strongly welcome the proposal to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12 as a step in a process.
I attended an excellent conference recently, hosted by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland. Focusing on the underlying needs of young people and recognising the importance of children’s rights, it was easy at the end of it to think everyone in Scotland will agree with this change.
Of course that won’t be the case, and there will be some who think the age of criminal responsibility should stay at 8. At Includem, we wanted to share some of our experiences so show why it is so important we raise the age.
Firstly, there is of course the shocking fact that Scotland currently has the lowest age of criminal responsibility in Europe – in fact only 8 countries in the world have lower ages than Scotland.
Our starting point is recognising that there is a clear link between the underlying complexity of a child’s needs and their vulnerability and risk taking, harmful and offending behaviour. For many young people their past histories of abuse, neglect, trauma have had a direct impact on the behaviour that has led us to working with them.
As the Advisory Group and others have stated, “rarely does a child demonstrate harmful behaviour without first having been harmed themselves”.
Ultimately our aim should not be to criminalise and punish young people which only leads to a descending spiral of exclusion and lifelong disadvantage, but as a society it should be to break children out of the cycles of despair and deprivation so they can start to build a more positive future for themselves. If we succeed in doing that, not only will we far more successfully manage risk in the community but we will also deal with the underlying needs of those most vulnerable, troubled and difficult to engage young people in Scotland.
We look forward to the Scottish Government legislating as soon as practicable to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility.