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When anonymity breeds an anomaly

ThERE are pertinent questions to ask arising from the Scottish Government's proposal to extend anonymity of those who commit crimes to under-18s, rather than the current under-16 limit.

Colyn Evans, whose brutal murder of student Karen Dewar in Fife eight years ago earned him a life sentence, have been granted anonymity? He was 17 at the time of the crime, but the case raised major questions about how his disturbing sexual behaviour had been overlooked and unaddressed. Coverage of the case led to significant changes to social work resources and the management of sex offenders in the community.

Should the public have been denied the right to know the identity of Luke Mitchell, the 16-year-old convicted of the 2003 murder of his girlfriend Jodi Jones in 2005? If these killers need such protection due to their young age, why would people of a similar age be allowed to marry, or vote, in Scotland's independence referendum? Should any lesser offender be protected in this way, just because they are not yet 18?

The proposal is puzzling. It is being justified on the rather thin basis that victims of crime, under an EU directive, should be viewed as children until they are 18. This is in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, under which any person under the age of 18 is viewed as a child.

So the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill proposes to extend their rights and protections, including anonymity until the later age. It is in the interests of "consistency" that the age for reporting restrictions on offenders is also to be raised.

It is justifiable to argue that young victims of crime should have their identities protected. There is a purpose too in protecting the identities of children who are accused of crimes, and cut-off dates will always be somewhat arbitrary. However the current cut-off of 16 appears to be backed up by many sensible precedents.

As well as marriage, this is the age at which people are deemed to have the right to drink (with a meal), drive, leave home or change their names. It is the age at which you can serve in the armed forces. Yes, children should be treated as such. But there is a reductive, infantilising effect in treating all children as though they were the same. As young people mature we expect them to take on responsibilities as well as rights.

The principle that justice should not merely be done, but be seen to be done, appears to be undermined by the proposal. Courts already have the power to apply reporting restrictions and restrict anonymity in any case if there are strong reasons for doing so. In that context, the blanket proposals contained in the bill seem excessive.

The Government has made it plain it believes 16 and 17-year-olds are responsible enough to have a say in their nation's future. If it believes they are too young to be equally responsible if they offend, the case for this has yet to be made.

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Families

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