Primary school-aged children will no longer be treated as offenders after MSPs passed legislation raising the age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12.
Holyrood last night unanimously backed the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill which will prevent under 12s from being arrested and branded criminals with records that follow them into adulthood.
Childcare and Early Years Minister Maree Todd said the new approach would make a “real difference” to young people’s lives.
A series of attempts by the Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton to raise the age of criminal responsibility further to either 14 or 16 were rejected by the parliament.
Last night, Mr Cole-Hamilton said he was “utterly crestfallen” that United Nations recommendations to raise the threshold to 14 had not been adopted.
He said: “It felt like we’d won the argument. But the government bottled it and decided their re-election was more important than children’s rights.
“They have without a doubt sunk any suggestion that Scotland can be a world leader on human rights.
“Any time we take issue with Russia or China on human rights matters, those countries will be able to point out they have a higher age of criminal responsibility than we do.”
But Ms Todd responded she was “saddened” that Mr Cole-Hamilton had compared Scotland with countries like China with poor human rights record and claimed doing so weakened his argument.
She added: “This new law means that no child under 12 will ever again be arrested or charged with an offence in Scotland. But the Bill also ensures that serious harmful behaviour will be investigated appropriately and victims will continue to get the support they need.
“Currently, young children can be left with criminal records that follow them into adulthood and affect their chances of getting training or a job. The measures in the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill will end that.”
Under the legislation, which was passed by 123 votes to zero, any child under the age of 12 involved in harmful behaviour will not be treated as a criminal. Such behaviour would still be investigated and recognised with victims treated appropriately. An Advisory Group will review the legislation including consideration of whether the age should be raised to higher than 12.
An independent reviewer will be appointed to scrutinise any potential release of information relating to when a person was under 12.