Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill passed

Decriminalisation of primary school-aged children.

Primary school-aged children will no longer be arrested and treated as offenders, following the passing of the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill.

The Bill will make far-reaching changes to the way that the law treats children under 12 with Scotland leading by increasing the age of criminal responsibility to the highest in the UK.

Evidence shows that early involvement in formal criminal justice systems can be severely detrimental to children and their future behaviour.

Children’s Minister Maree Todd said:

“Today is an historic day. This ground-breaking 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.

“Currently young children can be left with criminal records that can follow them into adulthood and affect their chances of getting training or a job. The measures in the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill will end that.

“I have sought to achieve the right balance with this Bill. This legislation forms a key part of our wider approach to children’s rights and youth justice. By getting this right, we will demonstrate that in Scotland we don’t just say things differently, we will show it by doing things differently.”


Any child involved in harmful behaviour will have their needs addressed without being treated as a criminal. Harmful behaviour will continue to be recognised and investigated with victims respected and responded to appropriately. 

The Scottish Government has taken steps to bring elements of the new legislation into force as quickly as possible.

Earlier this week, Ms Todd announced a new Advisory Group to take forward review of the legislation. The group – whose membership will include stakeholders and agencies working with children and young people – will consider whether the age should be raised to higher than 12.

Under the new law an independent reviewer will be appointed to scrutinise any potential release of information relating to when a person was under 12. The independent review process provides a significant additional protection, while ensuring that information can still be released when necessary for public protection reasons.


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