Minimum age of criminal responsibility

Bill introduced to Parliament.

The age of criminal responsibility is set to rise from eight to 12, under legislation introduced to the Scottish Parliament.

The new law will see Scotland lead the way in the UK, ensuring no child under 12 will receive a criminal record.

It has been introduced following a consultation in which 95% of respondents supported an increase to 12 or above.

If passed by Parliament, the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill will mean:

  • fewer children entering the criminal justice system as they grow into adulthood
  • the age of criminal responsibility will be brought into line with the current minimum age of prosecution in Scotland
  • any information on harmful or concerning behaviour involving children under the age of 12 will no longer be disclosed automatically but will be subject to independent review on a case by case basis
  • harmful behaviour involving children under 12 will continue to be addressed with bespoke new measures introduced to ensure police can thoroughly investigate the most serious incidents
  • victims of harm will continue to receive appropriate support and information

Early Years Minister Maree Todd said:

“All children deserve the best possible start in life and this legislation marks a key milestone in Scotland’s journey to ensure children are respected and valued.

“We know the actions of children who harm others are often a symptom of trauma in their own lives and that accruing a criminal record actually drives more offending. This legislation will help turn around the lives of troubled, primary school age children - who are often vulnerable themselves – by addressing their deeds in the context of supporting their needs.

“Importantly, the bill contains measures to provide reassurance to victims and communities that serious incidents will still be responded to appropriately.”


The Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill will further embed the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scottish life. It will mean the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is the highest in the UK, compared to age ten in Northern Ireland, England and Wales.

Where appropriate the behaviour of children under 12 will continue to be addressed in the children’s hearings system. The children’s hearings system is Scotland’s unique care and justice system for children and young people which aims to ensure the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children and young people through a lay tribunal.

The legislative change will mean children aged 8-11 can no longer be referred to a children’s hearing on the ground that they have committed an offence and no child will receive a conviction for their behaviour when under 12.

A consultation exercise took place from March to June with 95% of respondents supporting an increase to age 12 or above. Respondents included Police Scotland, prosecutors, victims groups and Who Cares? Scotland.

Further engagement events with more than 200 children and young people, including victims, took place over June and July 2017 and also found overwhelming support for the increase.


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