EXPERT groups have unanimously backed calls to raise Scotland's age of criminal responsibility from eight in a move that would belatedly bring the country into line with United Nations-backed minimum human rights standards.

A string of organisations, including children's representatives, councils, The Law Society of Scotland and criminal justice charities expressed support for a recommendation of a Scottish Government-convened advisory group, which said the age at which a young offender can be held responsible for a crime should be increased to 12, in a consultation.

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However, despite the widespread support for the move, which would see Scotland shed its status as having the lowest age of criminality in Europe and follow a UN recommendation made eight years ago, ministers refused to commit to a landmark overhaul with a Government spokeswoman only saying views would be responded to in "due course".

Currently, children in Scotland aged under 12 cannot be prosecuted but can be required to attend a children’s hearing where they can be held legally responsible for a crime. This could mean acquiring a criminal record which can affect opportunities in later life.

Of 46 organisations that responded to the consultation and agreed to make their submission public, just one disagreed with a proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12, and only because they believed it should be higher.

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Liam McArthur, the MSP, called on the SNP to urgently end an "absurd" situation and that "anything less would be a further demonstration of their timidity when it comes to protecting children's most basic rights."

The Liberal Democrat representative, who saw his former colleague Alison McInnes fail in previous bids to have the law changed, added: "Despite admitting that the current age of criminal responsibility is damaging Scotland’s reputation and stifling the life chances of young people, SNP ministers still can’t bring themselves to say definitively that it will change.

"After twice voting down Scottish Liberal Democrat proposals to raise the age to 12, the Scottish Government was embarrassed into taking baby steps. The results of their expert group and now their consultation have reiterated what ministers have been told for years. The law is outdated and a violation of international human rights. Not a single group favoured the status quo. There can be no more excuses or delays."

In response to the consultation, the Care Inspectorate "wholeheartedly" backed the "long awaited and important proposal" and said it would bring Scotland in line with the aspirations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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It added: "In our view, children under 12 who commit offences should be understood as children who require effective intervention and support to help them moderate their behaviour."

Youthlink Scotland backed the move but said consideration should be given to raising it beyond 12. In Germany and many other European countries, the criminal age of responsibility is 14 while in others, such as Sweden, it is 15. The group added: "We believe this is long overdue, and that the Scottish Government must take action to increase the age of criminal responsibility if it is to achieve its vision of Scotland being the best place to grow up."

The advisory group that made the recommendation included senior figures from Police Scotland, charities, Social Work Scotland, Scotland’s children’s commissioner and the Scottish Children’s Reporters’ Administration.

In 2012 the Scottish Government pledged to address the issue but the advisory group set up by ministers only began its examinations last November, reporting in March.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This Government has raised the minimum age of prosecution to 12 years, so no child under the age of 12 can ever be prosecuted in the criminal courts.

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"An advisory group established by the Scottish Government made a number of recommendations on the minimum age of criminal responsibility which informed the public consultation. Engagement activity with children and young people and victims groups has recently concluded and will also inform the analysis. Ministers will consider all views put forward and respond in due course."