SCOTLAND’S top prosecutor has warned against raising the age of criminal responsibility too far after revealing dozens of children had been convicted of serious offences including rape, robbery and attempted murder.

The Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC told MSPs that since 2011/12 almost 1300 children in Scotland aged 12 and 13 had been reported to the Crown Office.

Although the vast majority were dealt with by children’s panels, 29 were subject to criminal proceedings, including six at the High court and five before a sheriff and jury.

These more serious, or ‘solemn’, cases included a child charged with murder who was convicted of culpable homicide, an attempted murder, serious assaults, wilful fire-raising and rape of younger children.

Scotland currently has the lowest age of criminal responsibility in Europe, at eight.

The SNP Government wants to increase it to 12, aligning it with the minimum age of prosecution.

However ministers are being urged to increase both ages to 14 or 16.

Backing the government’s position, the Lord Advocate quoted figures from the Crown Office’s operational database to highlight examples of crimes which could not have been prosecuted had the age of criminal responsibility been 16.

As well as the cases involving 12 and 13 year olds, he 19,000 charges involving 14 and 15 year olds had been reported to the Crown Office since 2011/12, almost 3,000 of which called in court.

Of these, 47 were dealt with at solemn level, with 26 resulting in a prison sentence.

He told Holyrood’s Equalities Committee: “The headline offences included serious assaults, robbery, rape, wilful fire-raising, attempted murder and culpable homicide.

“The absolute numbers of solemn cases in these cohorts may be relatively small, but each one is a serious case.

"Our youth justice system needs to be able to deal appropriately and confidently with every one of these cases.

“That certainly does not mean we should set our face against a further increase in the age of criminal responsibility.

“But it does suggest that before we could decide to remove the ability to bring a criminal prosecution in relation to such cases, we would need to address with some care how we would equip our system to deal with them appropriately, confidently and indeed fairly.”

However Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner, Bruce Adamson, said the age of criminal responsibility should be at least 14, “with a view to raising it to 16”.

He said if Holyrood passed the Government’s Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill with an age of 12 it would go “directly in the face” of expert international opinion.

He said: “I don’t think we can underestimate just how much concern in the international community there is about an approach that would lead us to legislation which stated 12 as an age of criminal responsibility, even if in a few years it was going to raise higher than that.

“The message that it sends to 12 year old children is really powerful as well.”

Giving evidence via videolink, Professor Ann Skelton, a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, said: “The position of the Committee would be that Scotland should move to 14 immediately.”

Scottish LibDem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, who wants a phased increase to 16, said: “

Scotland has been trailing behind international standards for years. It’s really time we caught up.”