Minimum age of criminal responsibility: consultation analysis

Analysis of consultation responses and engagement with children and young people on raising age of criminal responsibility.

Summary Of Engagement With Children And Young People


One of the Advisory Group's recommendations was to seek the views of those most likely to be affected by any potential changes. Specifically:

That children and young people should be supported to participate in the development of this proposal, including ensuring their meaningful involvement in any consultation. Particular care should be taken to ensure that the views of children and young people most likely affected by this proposal are sought and taken into account.

Throughout June and July 2016 a series of events were held with various groups across Scotland, based on the questions in the formal consultation but tailored to meet the needs of each of the groups especially bearing in mind the age of the children and young people and potential sensitivities around individual circumstances. The methods used to elicit and record their views ranged from scenario storytelling to quizzes, timelines, discussion groups, voting cards and artwork.

In all we have engaged with children and young people from 8 to 22 years old, targeting those affected by current legislation and those that have experienced negative life experiences from being connected with the criminal justice system from an early age. All really wanted to take part and relished the opportunity to have their voices heard. In particular we have met with children and young people from:

Organisation Age Group Background of Group No of C&YP
Youth Parliament 15-22 Male and female Members of Youth Parliament 19
Children's Parliament 8-13 Male and female school pupils from Calderside Academy, Blantyre and Sciennes Primary, Edinburgh 40
Good Shepherd Secure Unit 15-17 Males and females either sentenced or placed in the Unit on welfare grounds 6
Who Cares? Scotland 12-20 Male and female looked after children 7
Youth Advantage Outreach 14-16 Males and females with regular contact with police and services mainly due to minor offending 33
Up-2-Us 14-22 Vulnerable girls and young women 8
YOI Polmont 16-22 Remand and sentenced males 17
Sacro* 11-16 Including victims of young people who have offended (Aberdeen, Tayside, Fife) 77
Age groups covered 8-22 Total number of children and young people 207

* 10 attended a focus group and 67 returned a questionnaire

Key Messages from Engagement with Children and Young People

While children and young people had a mixed understanding of the law surrounding criminal responsibility, overwhelming support was expressed for raising the age of criminal responsibility.

Children expressed concern for future prospects, the effectiveness of punishing children who didn't fully understand what they had done wrong, and the appropriateness of such harsh consequences when compared to other day-to-day responsibilities and consequences for children.

Children all agreed that there should be some consequences for harmful or law breaking behaviours and strongly suggested that other consequences which explored addressing issues connected to a child's environment and home life might be a more effective and appropriate way of responding to child offenders.

Youth Parliament ( MSYPs)
Includes YOI Polmont (remand and sentenced males)

Young people had a mixed understanding of the law surrounding criminal responsibility, with a slim majority being aware of the age brackets, but fewer aware of the exact meaning.

Young people largely thought that between the ages of 8 and 11 children don't have a strong understanding of right and wrong, or awareness of the consequences of their actions beyond getting into trouble at school and with parents.

Young people largely believed the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 12, with some suggesting 10. This was mainly due to the opportunity for early intervention and limited capacity and awareness of consequences, though a small number of young people thought offending may increase.

Young people considered that offenders required support focusing on the root causes of crime, in particular community and youth work: 'Me and my brother had similar problems when we were young with crime, but I received more support and we have taken two different paths - he has spent his twenties in and out of prison - has been failed by the system for sure'.

Young people acknowledged victims could feel a lack of justice following a change to the law; however, the majority considered that knowledge of offender rehabilitation could provide sufficient support alongside victim counselling.

Young people largely considered that information on a criminal record should be wiped clean at 16 except for major crimes such as rape and murder.

Young people had mixed opinions on what the extent of availability of criminal record information should be, ranging from allowing full disclosure, to a case by case system based on the type of crime or reasons for requesting information.

Children's Parliament (school pupils)

On raising the age, 37 out of 40 voted to raise the age to 12.

Children overwhelmingly supported raising the age of criminal responsibility. They expressed concern for future prospects, the effectiveness of punishing children who didn't fully understand what they had done wrong, and the appropriateness of such harsh consequences when compared to other day-to-day responsibilities and consequences for children.

Children all agreed that there should be some consequences for harmful or law breaking behaviours and strongly suggested that other consequences which explored addressing issues connected to a child's environment and home life might be a more effective and appropriate way of responding to child offenders.

Children felt that 8 years old was too young to face serious consequences on offence grounds and that it was unfair for incidents from their childhood to haunt them throughout their youth and into adulthood. It is important to recognise how people grow and change throughout their adolescence and to give them a chance to prove that they can be positive members of society, not expect the worst of them.

"I mainly think yes, but if you do commit a crime before 12, something will still happen, but it won't be on a record as a proper crime."

"Because I think 8 is too young. If you do something bad it is because of who is around you, what your family is like, your health and what your school is like."

"You're older and 4 years makes a difference. You are able to control yourself more and you're more responsible. You'll be going to high school and you have matured so you will realise the consequences more. Some people at the age of 8 or even older still are full of carry on."

"You're literally not even in double figures yet! We learn our mistakes and we're not perfect. I don't want to not be employed for a job because I done an offence when I was 8!"

"8 is ridiculous because you haven't fully matured yet and 12 is a much more suitable age."

"Depending on what type of crime you have done and also your age. It's your parents' fault and your environment."

"A crime is a crime, but 8 is too young."

Good Shepherd Secure Unit (sentenced or placed in the Unit on welfare grounds)

On problems of raising the age:

They knew some of the decisions they were making were wrong at the time irrespective of their age.

Some people taking advantage of the age being raised, for example people committing crimes knowing they would get away with it.

On awareness at the time of offending:

Aware of consequences; however they weren't great enough to stop them committing the crimes.

All grew up around offending behaviour and therefore it appeared more 'normal' for them than it would perhaps for other young people without the family offending history.

On longer term effect of offending:

They talked about future careers and how they would have now changed some of the behaviours as they start to explore the impact on their future.

On disclosure:

It should depend on what the crime is. For example if it was a rape charge then this should not be wiped clean, however shoplifting should be.

Everyone should be given a second chance and that nothing should be revealed, however came back to discussing what the crime was and severity should determine what information should be revealed.

On victims:

Discussed trauma, anxiety and fears that may be experienced.

No punishment would be enough and that it wasn't justice for the victim.

A sentence provides so much more than just being 'locked up'.

Able to identify work they had completed on victim empathy and the change that had made to them.

The group decided that support for the victim and a restorative approach would be most beneficial.

On raising the age:

As a group they decided unanimously that no, it should not be raised.

Who Cares? Scotland (looked after children)

On age of criminal responsibility across the world:

Most are shocked that Scotland's MACR is the lowest in Europe and surprised that Scotland is lower than England.

On raising the age:

Six felt it should be higher, between 14-18 years; one thought it should stay the same.

On police involvement if a child commits a crime:

The group felt that police involvement is sometimes necessary - but only in the case of more serious crimes. Police need to be the first responders but pass the information onto social work so the child can be helped and isn't in trouble.

On care experienced being affected differently than those who aren't looked after:

Mostly in agreement that care experienced children and young people are treated differently by the police, especially if they live in a residential home. Therefore, care experienced young people are in need of extra protection so they are not criminalised.

The police used to come to our home and say it was us inside that are causing trouble in the community. They automatically think that everyone in the home is the same.

Youth Advantage Outreach (regular contact with police and services mainly due to minor offending)

On children as young as 8 appearing at a Children's Hearing for offences:

General consensus that 8 was far too young and a child as young as that wouldn't really know what they were doing. The group were aware of the Bulger case and commented that it might be more about the seriousness of the offence and some action could be needed.

On police taking and retaining samples:

There was a really balanced discussion on the reasons why sometimes samples were taken and some felt it would be helpful to take samples especially as this could prove a person innocent. There was very little support however of retaining samples beyond their use for a specific incident.

On later effects in life of behaviours carried out when young:

Really strong views about getting an opportunity and that people can change.

On raising the age:

There were a range of age suggestions all generally opting for raising the age to 12 or higher. Those that 'Don't know' tended to be unsure as it was dependent on the type or seriousness of the offence.

Up-2-Us (vulnerable girls and young women)

On offending:

Young women linked being involved in offending and harmful behaviours to family reputation, labels from being in care, and taught behaviour.

One young woman noted she had been used to carry drugs for her older brother at 10 years old.

Two of the young women recounted knowing a 9 year old boy in secure accommodation whose family were proud that he had started getting into trouble so early in life.

They all agreed that mental health affects behaviour, and that being held accountable depends on clarity of thought and moral understanding. Yet children between 8-12 years are often not flagged up to mental health.

On disclosure:

The criminal record of any individual under 12 should be sealed or wiped clean. Children should not be held accountable for poor decisions or behaviour for any time period that may affect their ability to move forward or make use of opportunities as they grow up. On the rare occasion serious crimes are committed such as trafficking, abuse of minors, murder, records should be kept in line with current policy for length of disclosure.

On raising the age:

Raising the age might be read by young people as an allowance to behave/offend in harmful or negative ways until 12 years with no criminal consequence. Thinking retrospectively they understood that had this legislation been in place for them that they might not have gotten a criminal record as early as they did, and that ultimately raising the age would be a preventative step.

The younger group overwhelmingly felt that the age should be raised to 12. The group were unaware that the current age of criminal responsibility was so low and felt that this did not make sense. Up-2-Us identifies with the young people that there is a need for greater dispersal of information about rights and responsibilities of young people.

On key messages:

That individuals need support and opportunities to help with offending behaviours. Checks should be carried out, there are concerns from the young women that individuals who need help do not always get it. This is especially the case in regards mental health.

Support provided for mental health is not effective, one young woman commented that professionals do not understand symptoms, she would want to speak to someone who gets what she is going through.

Professionals do not always understand the process of their engagement, that young women take time to respond based on their difficult experiences with adults and interaction with multiple agencies. This does not mean they do not want or need support.

Sacro (victims 1)

Participants in the main were unaware of the short and long term effects of their offending behaviour; they knew they would get into some form of trouble but did not realise they would end up with a charge/police record.

There appears to be many misconceptions and gaps in knowledge of young people about the age of criminal responsibility, the youth justice system and the impact and consequences on themselves in the long term of offending behaviour.

The results were mixed with regard to sharing information, but would require that safeguards were put in place and be of relevance to those who were receiving information.

Overall all young people felt that people harmed should be offered support irrespective of the age of offender and the severity of the offence. The participants felt the person's harmed should be protected as they may feel vulnerable.

80% of the young people participating in the focus groups agreed that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 12. The reasons for this were due to 8 year olds not being mature enough to understand the consequences of their actions, not knowing right from wrong and being too young to have a police record.

1 It should be noted that young people who offend are very often victims themselves.


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