Arguments over the age of criminal responsibility continue to rage with the Scottish Children’s Commissioner complaining to the United Nations and opposition parties at Holyrood seeking to further increase the proposed new age from 12 to 14. The current age is eight.
This has been ongoing since I first entered Cabinet over a decade ago. Limited progress has been made by ending the absurdity over differential ages for criminal responsibility and criminal punishment which were difficult to comprehend, let alone explain.
But despite discussions all those years ago, it still hasn’t moved and I can’t understand why.
Discussions I was party to saw the Lord Advocate baulk at increasing the age of criminal responsibility to 16, given the number of youths just under that age convicted of knife carrying and other serious offences. Politically then too, that would have been a problem and it was for another day.
But, anything below that was possible and 12 was the easiest politically to implement. Why we aren’t there yet beats me.
Sixteen is, of course, where we should aim to get to, as it is our definition on childhood for many things from marriage to voting, though it’s complicated with good reason on issues such as alcohol where there are physiological arguments.
That’s still a step too far but faster and further movement is long overdue. Yet I was told a story recently of children’s rights activist meeting with a Minister who was disappointed that they weren’t grateful, if not gushing in praise for the current proposal.
To be fair the Minister probably wasn’t even elected, let alone in Government, when these discussions were first began. But 12 is long overdue and 14 should at least be an early aspiration.
The Scottish Government has been bold on an international agenda where they possess few levers. But this is entirely within their domain and is symptomatic of their domestic timidity.
The same leadership and courage as shown on Brexit is required on the domestic agenda.