Youth justice

Policy actions  3 of 4

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. 

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. 

The Act was commenced in phases, and was fully commenced on 17 December 2021. Children under the age of 12 can no longer be charged or arrested.

The Act places a statutory duty on the Scottish ministers to provide guidance on the use of a place of safety (section 28), to provide a list of places of safety, and to provide statutory guidance on investigative interview (section 57).

The Act places statutory obligation to the Scottish Ministers to report to Parliament on the use of the section 28 power. The first report was laid before the Scottish Parliament in May 2023.

Scottish ministers have a duty to establish a register of child interview rights practitioners (ChIRPs) who will provide advice, support and assistance to children in relation to their involvement in investigative interviews. The Code of Practice of practice sets out the national standards of practice that apply to all ChIRPS, as implemented by the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 (Register of Child Interview Rights Practitioners) Regulations 2021. This question and answer guide for ChIRPs provides clarity on practical and procedural matters.

It is important that children under 12 are protected from the harmful effects of early criminalisation, while ensuring they receive the right support. A joint statement by the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and Social Work Scotland emphasises the importance of ensuring processes, practice and documentation promote wellbeing and do not criminalise children.

Scottish ministers are required to review operation of the Act in general and with a view to considering the future age of criminal responsibility. An advisory group has been established to support the review.

The following animation explain the changes introduced by the Act.

Back to top