Age of Criminal Responsibility Advisory Group minutes: August 2019

Minutes from the meeting of the Age of Criminal Responsibility Advisory Group, held on 26 August 2019.

Attendees and apologies

In Attendance

  • Lesley Sheppard (Chair), Scottish Government, Care, Protection & Justice Division 
  • Paul Carberry, Action for Children
  • Alistair Hogg, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration
  • Lynsey Smith, Includem
  • Gillian MacDonald, Police Scotland
  • Nicola Fraser, Victim Support Scotland
  • Matthew Sweeney, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities
  • Anthony McGeehan, Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service
  • Fiona Dyer, Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice 
  • Gerard Hart, Disclosure Scotland 
  • Diane Dobbie, National Youth Justice Advisory Group 
  • Alison Cowper, Social Work Scotland 
  • Boyd McAdam, Children’s Hearings Scotland 
  • Elliot Jackson, Children’s Hearings Scotland 
  • Elaine Walker, Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service 

Secretariat/supporting officials 

  • Nicola Guild, Scottish Government Legal Directorate 
  • Barry McCaffrey, Scottish Government Legal Directorate
  • Tom McNamara, Scottish Government Care, Protection & Justice
  • Lucy Smith, Scottish Government Care, Protection & Justice
  • Melissa Thomas (secretariat), Scottish Government Care, Protection & Justice


  • Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People 
  • Juliet Harris, Together 
  • Dr Lorraine Johnstone, Consultant Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, CAMHS Lead Clinicians’ Group 
  • Ingrid Roberts, Scottish Government Police Division

Items and actions

1. Welcome and Introduction

Following a quick round of introductions the Chair thanked everyone for attending, and briefly summarised the context in which the Group had been convened, the timeline for review and the expectations for the Group in undertaking the statutory review provided for under Section 78 of the Age of Criminal Responsibility Act (‘the Act’). The Chair expressed Scottish Ministers’ desire to keep the momentum going on this issue after the Act received Royal Assent in June. 

2. Context setting (ACR/01/01 and ACR/01/02)

The Chair acknowledged that membership reflected the previous Advisory Group set up in 2015 to consider the increase in the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years of age with the addition of Children’s Hearings Scotland and the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service. 

It was confirmed that work on implementation of the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 was underway  with the Scottish Government and key partners preparing regulations and statutory guidance under the Act. 

An overview was given of the key provisions in the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 and of the principal reforms being made to the current disclosure regime. 

The Group agreed that the direction of travel  on the age of criminal responsibility and on the reforms made to the disclosure system had been established  and reflected on the imperative around close involvement of and engagement with stakeholders as the work to implement the Act is taken forward. 

3. Discussion of draft Terms of Reference (ACR/01/03)

The Group discussed the tabled draft Terms of Reference (ToR). In general the group were content with the ToR although there was agreement that more explicit reference should be made to the Group’s role in consideration of  victims under the Children’s Hearings System.  The Group  were keen to follow the ‘no detriment to victims’ principle adhered to by the first advisory group . 

A preliminary discussion took place on some of the  issues the Group would have to take account of in its review. The Group acknowledged that it would have to consider new constructs and ideas relating to the systems response to children who engage in harmful behaviour as they work through the implications of  higher ages of criminal responsibility. The Group would also assess the extent of stigmatising impact of terms such as ‘alternative to prosecution’ rather than ‘conviction’. It was agreed that increasing the age of criminal responsibility is likely to have implications for the investigation of crime and this may become more acute the higher the age of criminal responsibility became.

It was understood by the Group that reducing adverse contact with the police and managing offending behaviour by young people in a non-penalising way reduces  future rates of reoffending and reconviction. It was also acknowledged that the impact of the Act on victims would need to be evaluated and that the Group would wish to link in with the work of the victims taskforce. 

The Group agreed that the work of the previous Advisory Group (which represented a range of interests such as victims, police powers, and children’s rights) provided a strong foundation for developing the provisions in the Act and considering their applicability to higher age groups along with points of distinction. It was understood by the Group that necessary time will be required after the Group has conducted its review to support deep engagement and to develop legislation that may be required after the review’s conclusion. 

The Group agreed that in order to conduct the review it would be important for them to understand the scale of youth offending in Scotland. In the course of its work, the Group would seek to gather best practice examples across Scotland for responding  effectively and constructively to youth offending, and to be aware of where there may be gaps in protective systems and services. It was agreed that the Group would need to ensure that it connects with both the Youth Justice Improvement Board and Justice Board to ensure no duplication in evidence gathering, research or other activity, and to ensure that it was kept updated with significant developments being made in youth justice.  

Action: The Secretariat to amend the ToR and reissue prior to the next Advisory Group Meeting as well as to consider how the Group may link with the Youth Justice Improvement Board and Justice Board.

4. Membership (ACR/01/04)

A number of co-options to the Group were suggested:

  • One additional representative from Social Work Scotland
  • A representative from the Community Development Network 

In response to a question from the Group, the Chair explained that the Children’s Commissioner was unable to join the group but  has asked to be kept informed of progress. 

Action: The Secretariat to contact potential co-optees.  The Secretariat to keep the office of the Children’s Commissioner up to date with the work of the Group. 

5. Suggested timelines and work streams (ACR/01/05)

The Group was updated on current planning to implement the Act. It was agreed that the Group should be kept informed of progress and, in the first instance, provided with a set of  key milestones. This will inform the  scheduling of the work of the Group, particularly in relation to monitoring operation of key provisions under the Act. 

The Group discussed how it should operate and whether work streams should be established with a number of suggestions put forward as to a possible structure.   It was agreed that the Secretariat would develop a proposal for work streams for consideration at the next meeting.  

Action: Age of criminal responsibility implementation team to share implementation planning with the Group. The Secretariat to develop suggestions for work streams. 

6.    Communications and engagement with stakeholders     

The Group discussed having young people as core members of the Group.. The crucial importance of voice and lived experience was acknowledged, and there was a detailed conversation about how best to ensure  young people’s views were embedded within the Group’s work.  

The Group reflected on  the importance of children and young people being  empowered to voice their opinions and considered that a group setting  specifically designed with and for them would be essential.  .

The Group discussed designing and supporting engagement work that could involve STARR (Secure care experienced advisory group), ‘Youth Just Us’ (a group consisting of care and justice experienced young people), ‘Our Hearings, Our Voice’ (children and young people’s board for the Children’s Hearings System) and WhoCares?Scotland. 

The Group considered it essential to involve groups and organisations representing the views of young people at key points in its review as well as inviting young people to meetings of the Group and formally consulting with specific groups of young people.

The Group also considered the  importance of engaging with the general public during the course of its review including the possibility of a formal consultation.. The Group emphasised the importance of maintaining public and community awareness and confidence in advance of any changes to the age of criminal responsibility.

7. Research (ACR/01/06)

The Group discussed research proposals from the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) and Police Scotland which were presented to the Group. 
The Group agreed that it would be beneficial at this early stage to collect data on the scale and nature of offending at different age groups using both police and local authority data as well as data from SCRA. This initial data collection could then be used to assess next steps for deciding the types of evidence and research which would be useful. 

Action: The Secretariat to coordinate data gathering with SCRA, Police Scotland, and Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice (CYCJ) as well as to link in with Youth Justice Improvement Board on this. 

8. A.O.B and date of next meeting                        

The Group agreed to meet every 4 months until next August, with the next meeting in December.  

Action: The Secretariat to send out suggested dates for the next meeting. 

Post meeting note

The Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd has reflected on engagement with young people on this issue and has asked that, in addition to the work agreed at the meeting on ensuring young people’s voice is embedded in the Groups work, a  young person is appointed as a core member of the Advisory Group.   Ms. Todd has asked for  recommendations from members of young people who are already engaged on this issue and who would bring a new perspective to the discussions.  

Action: Advisory Group members to forward suggested young people for membership of the group by 31 October 2019.

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