HOLYROOD voted unanimously yesterday to pass legislation which will prevent primary school-age children from being treated as criminals.

MSPs backed a new law raising the age of criminal responsibility from the current age of eight – one of the lowest in the world – to 12 years old.

Children’s Minister Maree Todd said the change means that “no child under 12 will ever again be arrested or charged with an offence in Scotland”, hailing it as a historic day.

The Scottish Government has said it will consider a further rise in the age of criminal responsibility within three years of it increasing to 12.

But LibDem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, who had called for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to either 14 or 16, said the legislation “fatally undermined” Scotland’s ambition to be a world leader in human rights.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has already demanded the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland be raised to 14 “immediately”, while the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland Bruce Adamson has also made his view clear that 14 is the “lowest acceptable age”.

Cole-Hamilton claimed that without a further increase in the criminal courts, the “international community will judge this government as a failure on children’s rights”.

But Todd stressed the “importance of carefully scoping and analysing the implications” of moving to a higher age, saying additional legislation could be needed for this. And she added that could mean “raising the age from eight could be delayed for a number of years”.

Todd continued: “That is not to say that we might not in the future agree as a parliament to raise the age of criminal prosecution further.

“But the safe way to do so is after proper review, scrutiny and development of detailed proposals and their implications in this regard.”

On a review after three years, Todd said: “That will provide a sufficient period of time to allow proper consideration of the impact of the current change. We need to get the balance right. Raising the age beyond 12 in this bill would not achieve that. The responsible approach is to raise the age to 12 now and allow a statutory review to be undertaken to consider the future age of criminal responsibility.”

Overall she stated: “Today is a historic day. This groundbreaking law delivers a bold, progressive, child-centred approach that will make a real difference to children’s lives.

“We can be proud that Scotland is leading the way in the UK. 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.”