Age of Criminal Responsibility

Children and Families Justice

The Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 (hereafter referred to as ‘the Act’) came into effect from 17 December 2021. This brings important changes to the rights of all children under 12 years of age.

This change is already reflected in the updated Early and Effective Intervention – Framework of Core Elements which was published by the Scottish Government in June 2021. The Core Elements recognises the difference between offending and concerning or harmful behaviour.

A vital part of the changes this introduces for children under 12 is to protect them from the harmful effects of early criminalisation, while ensuring they receive the right support and reduce stigma.  Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) emphasises the need to take a child-centred approach, understanding the wellbeing of a child in their current situation, taking into consideration the wider influences on a child and their developmental needs. It is essential that all agencies who work to support and meet the needs of children across Scotland ensure that their processes, practice and documentation reflect this important change. The language that all professionals use, in any form of communication, must reflect the wellbeing and rights-based approach that all agencies support.

Many agencies and local partnerships will have already started work to ensure they are ready for the commencement of the Act on 17th December 2021. All organisations, agencies and partnerships are urged to ensure that they review all of their processes, practices and documentation to ensure we use language that promotes wellbeing and does not criminalise children. By doing so we will ensure that this important change in the rights of children in Scotland is fully reflected in the way their needs are described. This will have immediate benefits, building on the GIRFEC approach and providing a strong foundation for future developments to deliver on our commitments to UNCRC.

The above guidance contains information to support Police Scotland and Local Authorities in the application of their operational duties, under the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 (the Act). This Guidance should be read in conjunction with the following, published by Scottish Ministers: