Age of Criminal Responsibility Advisory Group minutes: February 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the Age of Criminal Responsibility Advisory Group, held on 23 February 2021.

Attendees and apologies

In attendance

  • Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People (Chair)
  • Lesley Sheppard, Scottish Government, Care, Protection and Justice Division
  • Paul Carberry, Action for Children
  • Alistair Hogg, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration
  • Lynsey Smith, Includem
  • Judi Heaton, Police Scotland
  • Mike Findlay, Victim Support Scotland
  • Anthony McGeehan, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
  • Fiona Dyer, Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice
  • Gerard Hart, Disclosure Scotland
  • Diane Dobbie, National Youth Justice Advisory Group
  • Sharon Glasgow, Social Work Scotland
  • Alison Cowper, Social Work Scotland
  • Mick Doyle, Scottish Community Development Centre
  • Liam Slaven, Young People Representative
  • Michelle Rogers, Children’s Hearings Scotland
  • Amy Farmer, Children’s Hearings Scotland

Secretariat and supporting officials

  • Tom McNamara, Scottish Government, Care, Protection and Justice
  • Lucy Smith, Scottish Government, Care, Protection and Justice
  • Kenzy Thomson (secretariat), Scottish Government Care, Protection and Justice
  • Alison Melville, Scottish Government, Care, Protection and Justice


  • Elliot Jackson, Children’s Hearings Scotland
  • Elaine Walker, Scottish Courts and Tribunals Services
  • Juliet Harris, Together Scotland

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The Chair welcomed the group and thanked members for their commitment to this work. 

The Chair highlighted the significant progress the UNCRC Incorporation (Scotland) Bill was making through the parliamentary processes and, in particular, the interconnectedness of that with the ACR implementation. 

The Chair set out that Scotland is on a journey to increase the age of criminal responsibility further and transform how children are treated, and that this needs to be done safely, competently and robustly.

Minutes and actions of last meeting

The group agreed the minutes of the last meeting. Actions were noted as complete, subject to a minor request for the timescale for the SCRA research project.

Our context

The Chair asked for views from group members, highlighting that obstacles that had previously looked impossible to achieve have changed overnight, due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Key comments made by group members:

  • different stakeholders have responded differently to the various challenges identified by the pandemic
  • the importance of clarity on particular issues related to implementation of the Act (such as definitions, and the list of places of safety)
  • the challenge of developing training when in-person training is not yet possible 
  • the support provided by the Scottish Government Wellbeing Fund for communities and families has been invaluable
  • the involvement of young people in criminality during the pandemic, and the challenge this will bring over coming months
  • the challenge of actively involving children and young people in developing guidance and processes that will stem from the UNCRC Incorporation (Scotland) Bill, following Royal Assent
  • the agility shown by large public sector organisations in changing how they work over a very short timeframe, in order to maintain support to other organisations (such as Disclosure Scotland providing a substantial number of disclosure certificates for key workers over a very short time period)
  • the importance of maintaining standards, despite the pandemic and despite the changing way of working for many in the public and third sectors

Updates from subgroups

The Chair invited the subgroup Chairs to provide an overview of their work over the past four months:

Community confidence (chaired by Paul Carberry)

The community confidence subgroup has held two meetings and is considering a number of ways to persuade, inform, encourage and consult with communities. As well as using existing community networks, the subgroup is considering other vehicles for understanding public opinion, especially from people whose views about an increase in the age of criminal responsibility are negative. These include:

  • a Scottish population survey, such as the social attitudes survey
  • a one-off major community consultation to get as many people as possible involved across country (like the Edinburgh University Futures Conversations)
  • a citizen’s assembly/panel deliberative type approach

Strong evidence is key to any public engagement and the subgroup is considering a short research project to look at lessons learned from around the world on this issue. 

The subgroup will develop a media strategy to underpin their work. The subgroup highlighted the need to take a careful, considered approach to the timing of any public engagement as communities emerge from the pandemic.

Victims support (chaired by Mike Findlay)

The victim support subgroup has met once, to discuss the terms of reference, membership, and overlap with other subgroups.

The subgroup intends to create a framework for messaging. The next meeting will take place as a workshop for developing key messages, including to clarify what support is available for victims during a hearing to ensure their rights are protected.

The subgroup had discussed a wraparound service for victims, regardless of age, and care packages that could be put in place. Group members are considering products, and milestones to achieve these, such as a Q&A for victims’ perspectives.

Data and research (chaired by Fiona Dyer)

The data and research subgroup has met twice. It has been considering existing data, and highlighting gaps. Oversight of the SCRA research project sits within this subgroup.

The subgroup had undertaken an online survey of young people (aged between 10 and 26), gathering their views on the age of criminal responsibility. The following highlights were shared:

  • there were over 400 responses to the survey, 342 of which were valid
  • two-thirds of the respondents were female, one third was male
  • the mean age of respondents was 17
  • 4% of respondents thought that the age of criminal responsibility should be lower than 12
  • 11% of respondents thought that 12 was right
  • 85% of respondents thought that the age of criminal responsibility should be higher than 12 (the most common age identified was 16, some respondents commented that it should be over 18)
  • the average age of criminal responsibility across all responses was 15 years and four months

Alistair Hogg spoke to a proposal to extend the timescales for the SCRA research project. The additional time will be used for more detailed analysis in relation to serious and persistent offending, and issues relating to gender difference and offending by girls. The final report would be available for the Advisory Group in January 2022. The Advisory Group agreed to the request to extend the project.

Operational implications (chaired by Anthony McGeehan)

The subgroup has met twice and has been considering the rate, nature and outcomes of relevant offending to understand the operational implications of moving to a higher age. A paper had been circulated, and the subgroup Chair highlighted a few key points:

  • the subgroup has considered data from incidents where serious offending by 12 and 13 year olds was jointly reported to the Principal Reporter and to the Procurator Fiscal
  • this evidence demonstrated that there are a minority of cases of very serious offences where the outcomes last beyond the young person’s 18 birthday
  • the importance of understanding the current criminal justice response, in order to understand what needs to change for a higher age
  • the subgroup is now considering a broader range of data (from Police Scotland) in relation to offending behaviour by 12 and 13 year olds, and which results in an increase in the volume of incidents

The subgroup has identified that raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 generates significant policy considerations for government to ensure that the response is sufficient. 

The Chair thanked the subgroup Chairs for their input, and group members for their contributions to discussions about each of the work streams.

The Advisory Group was content to approve the Terms of Reference for each subgroup. It was agreed that there is crossover between the subgroups, and important to work closely to ensure no overlap or missed opportunities.

The Chair set out her ambition for the Advisory Group, reflecting that progress of the UNCRC Incorporation (Scotland) Bill in Parliament, and commencement of that Act (later this year) is likely to result in a push to move to a higher age of criminal responsibility. The Chair asked the Advisory Group to provide details of what would need to be in place for moving to:

  • age 14 by the end of 2021
  • age 16 by the end of 2022
  • age 18 by the end of the review period


Implementation update

The group was provided with a brief update on implementation of the Act, to date:

  • commencement of the Act, three sets of commencement regulations have now come into effect, most parts of the Act are now either fully or partially commenced, with the exception of parts five and six, a final set of commencement regulations is planned, which will bring remaining provisions into force
  • Scottish secondary legislation, the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 (Independent Review of Disclosure of Information) Regulations 2020 came into effect on 30 November 2020
  • the Children’s Hearings (Provision of Information by Principal Reporter) (Specified Persons) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 came into effect on 4 February 2021
  • cross-border cooperation, discussions have continued with UK departments in relation to cross-border cooperation for Parts two and four of the Act, legal elements for cross-border cooperation (which require approval by the UK Government) are expected to be in place by end of 2021
  • court rules, officials have continued to liaise with the Scottish Civil Justice Council about proposed changes to court rules, which are expected to be in place by summer 2021, ready to come into force only when it is time to commence Part four of the Act
  • ministerial guidance on police powers in the Act, stakeholders have been consulted stakeholders on draft ministerial guidance for section 28 (the power to take a child to a place of safety) and for section 57 (investigative interview), and the guidance documents are in the process of being revised
  • child interview rights practitioners, a draft Code of Practice and policy have been developed and consulted upon, both are being revised, subject to consultation responses, training needs for all involved in the investigative interview is being considered

Date of next meeting

The group agreed to keep meeting every four months, and to have a check-in meeting in June, after the Scottish elections.

The Chair asked group members to inform the secretariat of themes for future meetings.

Summary of actions

  • secretariat to amend timescale for SCRA Research project on the action log
  • group members to inform secretariat of ideas for themes for future meetings
  • secretariat to confirm date for June meeting

Post-meeting note

An invitation has issued to group members for 29 June 2021.

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