Policy actions  3 of 3

Raising the age of criminal responsibility

We are committed to protecting and promoting the rights and interests of children and young people. We are also committed to preventing and addressing offending behaviour by young people. 

We established an expert advisory group in 2015 to identify the key issues arising from an increase in the age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12, which made a number of recommendations about how to safely and responsibly raise the age. As a result of the work of this group and after a consultation exercise, we introduced legislation to the Scottish Parliament in 2018. 

The Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament on 7 May 2019 and received Royal Assent on 11 June 2019. 

Once implemented, the Act will raise the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland from 8 to 12. Additionally, it provides certain safeguards to ensure that harmful behaviour by children under 12 can be responded to in an appropriate and meaningful way, which will not criminalise children. 

We are working to implement this key piece of legislation as quickly and as safely as possible. As of autumn 2019, we will ensure that no child will be referred to a children’s hearing on the ground that they committed an offence when that behaviour took place when they were under the age of 12. This timescale also allows for the needs and interests of victims to be taken into account and ensure that victims can receive appropriate information. We have also started preparations for switching on the new disclosure regime under the Act and we intend for this to be commenced by summer 2020. 

The Minister for Children and Young People committed to creating a new advisory group to consider whether the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland should be increased further and to review operation of the Act. This advisory group met for the first time on 26 August 2019 and will report to Scottish Ministers on its findings after both of these areas of work are completed.

Expressions of interest are being invited for children’s solicitors to support children in investigative interviews by the police when instances involving serious harmful behaviours and circumstances have happened.