Fury at Moves to Count Children out of Criminal Justice
Byline: IAN SMITH
SCOTTISH Ministers are planning to raise the age of criminal responsibility in a move that provoked an outcry last night.
Lawyers have advised them they will face a challenge under the European Convention on Human Rights unless they increase the age at which youngsters are held legally accountable for their crimes from eight to 12.
The change is the latest in a series of reforms forced on the Scottish Executive by the convention. Unlike previous instances, it strikes at the very heart of Scots Law.
In a move to pre-empt the introduction of the European stipulations, Education Minister Sam Galbraith will this week announce a long-term review of youth justice. Sources close to him said this would mean a change in the law within two to five years.
Official figures show eight to 11-year-olds are responsible for approximately
4,000 crimes each year in Scotland.
Under the reform, these crimes would simply be wiped from records and dealt with by social workers instead of the criminal justice system, despite the fact that child crime is on the increase. Last night senior police officers, victims' groups and MSPs bitterly attacked the proposals, saying they would remove the deterrent to youngsters committing crime.
The proposed reform would mean that criminal charges could not be brought in a case such as the murder of Jamie Bulger in 1993 by ten-year-olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.
Raising the age of responsi-
bility is part of a raft of measures aimed at reforming how the legal system deals with youth crime. Ministers also plan a pilot project which will take 16 and 17-year-olds out of the adult court system.
But Fred McManus, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said raising the age of responsibility would encourage young repeat offenders.
He said: 'If you do not even acknowledge their behaviour as criminal until they are 12, how do you take steps to prevent it?' Tory home affairs spokesman Phil Gallie said the Scottish Executive was sending out the message that it was soft on crime. He added: 'The Executive is in totally the wrong ball park with this.
'This is an age group which causes a lot of problems and distress. If you remove the responsibility from them, how do you then teach them to recognise right from wrong? It will encourage youngsters to have contempt for the law.
I suspect the real agenda behind this is to reduce the cost of the court system. The convention has become a convenient excuse for any changes the Executive wants to make to the legal system. …