Criminal responsibility law must prevent children from being locked up, says MSP
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton has lodged amendments to the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill ahead of a Holyrood debate.
The Scottish Government should take steps to ensure children are prohibited from being locked in police cells, a Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP has said.
MSPs have been debating legislation which would raise the age at which a person is considered old enough to be responsible for their actions and held criminally accountable for them, from eight to 12.
However, there have been calls to raise the age beyond the proposed 12, to be more in line with an international standard of 14.
In England and Wales, the age of criminal responsibility is currently set at 10 years old.
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said that setting the age at 12 would “represent a fresh breach of international minimums”.
As part of amendments lodged for a Holyrood debate on the Age of Criminal Responsiblity Bill at Stage 3, Mr Cole-Hamilton added provisions to prevent children from being locked up.
The Scottish Parliament has an opportunity to kick-start a children’s revolution Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton
The Lib Dem MSP also added an amendment calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised beyond the age of 12.
He said: “The experience of being arrested and charged is already a severe adverse childhood experience, but by permitting children to be detained in cells, we are cruelly adding another.
“Evidence highlights that detention in inappropriate conditions can have serious long-term repercussions for children and young people. A police cell is never the right place for a child. There are any number of more appropriate locations for children when they need a place of safety.
“As we approach the final hurdle for the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill, the Scottish Parliament has an opportunity to kick-start a children’s revolution.
“If Parliament is prepared to be bold we can deliver on our promise to make Scotland the best place in the world for children and young people to grow up.
“Anything less and we are letting down the next generation. We cannot lead the world from the back of the pack.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Raising the age of criminal responsibility is the right decision for Scotland at this time and has already been widely supported across the Scottish Parliament. And we have made clear our intention to place a strong presumption against the use of police cells for children.
“If this Bill passes, children under 12 will no longer be arrested or charged and they will only be taken to a place of safety if there is an immediate threat and it is not safe for them to go home. The place of safety can only be used for a maximum of 24 hours.
“We have taken an evidence and expert led approach to ensure we meaningfully decriminalise children under 12 whilst ensuring the rights of victims are protected and community safety is maintained.
“We want to provide safe, responsive and responsible support for children in the most difficult circumstances, including when they are involved in harmful behaviour. As has been made clear, any use of a place of safety will be closely monitored, with a police station used only in emergency cases as a last resort and for the shortest time necessary until somewhere else can be found.”