Re­spon­si­bil­ity is an age-old de­bate

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - COMMENT -

At what age can a young per­son truly be said to be re­spon­si­ble for his or her ac­tions?

Cur­rently the age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity in Scot­land is just eight – the low­est in Europe.

New leg­is­la­tion will see that rise to 12, but there are grow­ing calls to raise it still fur­ther to 16.

Mean­while, there are also calls for a new “youth jus­tice sys­tem” cater­ing for of­fend­ers up to the age of 21.

Doubt­less there are laud­able aims be­hind the pro­pos­als, but any fur­ther changes must be very care­fully con­sid­ered.

Al­ready, our young peo­ple can pass through the court sys­tem anony­mously.

Will fur­ther pro­tec­tions help to re­duce of­fend­ing, or merely re­in­force a sense that some peo­ple are get­ting off scot-free?

Jus­tice is a bal­anc­ing act, but if the scales are to be tipped it must be in favour of wider so­ci­ety, not the crim­i­nal fra­ter­nity.

In an ideal world, no­body un­der the age of 16 would even con­sider com­mit­ting a crim­i­nal act.

Sadly the re­al­ity does not al­ways match that ideal. The new re­port sug­gest­ing a height­ened age for crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity comes at a sen­si­tive time, in the wake of the death of 16-year-old Wil­liam Lind­say, who took his own life in Pol­mont Young Of­fend­ers In­sti­tu­tion.

Cool heads will need to pre­vail if a sen­si­ble, fair – and in­deed just – so­lu­tion is to be found.

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