Age of Criminal Responsibility Advisory Group minutes: June 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the Age of Criminal Responsibility Advisory Group, held on 29 June 2021.

Attendees and apologies

In attendance

  • Clare Haughey, Minister for Children and Young People (Chair)
  • Lesley Sheppard, Scottish Government, Children’s Rights, Protection and Justice Division (CRPJD)
  • Paul Carberry, Action for Children
  • Alistair Hogg, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA)
  • Lynsey Smith, Includem
  • Sam McCluskey, Police Scotland
  • Mike Findlay, Victim Support Scotland
  • Anthony McGeehan, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • Carolann Anderson, CELCIS
  • Gerard Hart, Disclosure Scotland
  • Diane Dobbie, National Youth Justice Advisory Group (NYJAG)
  • Pat Togher, Social Work Scotland
  • Mick Doyle, Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC)
  • Liam Slaven, Young People Representative
  • Christine Mullen, Children’s Hearings Scotland
  • Juliet Harris, Together Scotland
  • Jillian Ingram, CoSLA
  • Jillian Gibson, CoSLA

Secretariat and supporting officials

  • Lucy Smith, Scottish Government, CRPJD
  • Katrina McNeill, Scottish Government, CRPJD
  • Kenzy Thomson, Scottish Government, CRPJD


  • Fiona Dyer, Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ) Sharon Glasgow, Social Work Scotland
  • Elliot Jackson, Children’s Hearing Scotland
  • Judi Heaton, Police Scotland
  • Elaine Walker, Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service
  • Lorraine Johnstone, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) Lead Clinicians' Group
  • Tom McNamara, Scottish Government, CRPJD

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The Minister for Children and Young People welcomed members to her first meeting as Chair of the Advisory Group. 

Minutes and actions from last meeting

The minutes of the last meeting were agreed subject to amending the section on victims’ rights in children’s hearings to make clear it is broader and covers victims’ rights generally.

Updates from subgroups

Community Confidence subgroup

Chaired by Paul Carberry, Action for Children

A small group of practitioners from Action for Children are exploring ways to gather the views of young people on the age of criminal responsibility. The subgroup is keen to involve a range of organisations in discussion. 

Paul Carberry met with Age UK and the Children’s Parliament to discuss approaches to engagement with the aim of ensuring an intergenerational approach.

The subgroup is considering a suggestion from the Scottish Community Development Centre representative around a citizens’ enquiry approach to engagement to include a wide range of people. This work is still at the development stage and members of the Advisory Group were asked to consider the timing for this work to begin. Funding to support will also have to be considered. 

Victim support subgroup

Chaired by Mike Findlay, Victim Support Scotland

The subgroup has been working on communication which supports victims and their families on raising the age of criminal responsibility specifically around victims’ rights. The Victims’ Code informs the work of the subgroup as does the national trauma informed framework which has been used to steer discussions on key messages, using each of the headings from the framework: safe, choice, collaboration, empowerment, safety and trust.

Discussion has been opened up on increasing the age of criminal responsibility further and how communication could be developed which ensured that victims and families feel supported. The subgroup is working with Police Scotland colleagues to ensure that the messaging for victims and families is consistent throughout, as well as making clear that the Children’s Hearings system is not a “soft” option.

The subgroup is supporting the implementation team with the development of an animation that will explain the changes to the legislation and what this will mean for victims, communities and families. The Advisory Group will be kept up to date with the progress of the animation and the final video will be shared in advance of publishing.

Data and research subgroup

Chaired by Fiona Dyer, Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ)

Carolann Anderson provided an update on Fiona Dyer’s behalf.

A young person had created a survey to gather the views of children and young people aged 10 to 26 on the age of criminal responsibility. The survey received 342 responses, which have been collated into a report which has been published on the CYCJ website.

The subgroup has received data on incidents involving children from Police Scotland, Social Work Scotland, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA), CYCJ and COPFS. The data has been collated into a draft report. The report will be updated to reflect the justice statistics for 2020 to 2021 and circulated.

SCRA is currently carrying out research on offending by 12 to 15 year olds. The Advisory Group had agreed to an extension, which will allow more detail to be included. A meeting has been scheduled with COPFS to discuss the additional data required. SCRA will produce a report on the research for the subgroup.

Operational implications subgroup

Chaired by Anthony McGeehan, COPFS 

The subgroup has been considering data from COPFS, SCRA and Police Scotland in relation to the operational implications of raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14. A common theme from the data is that a small number of children under 14 commit very serious offences, and that the response by the state to such offences is correspondingly serious, with the response continuing beyond the young person’s 18 birthday.

A consequential issue is the absence of disposals that continue beyond 18 within the hearing system. This is not to conclude that the ACR should not rise to 14. Rather, should the ACR rise to 14 or above, if no criminal justice system response is available the alternate response must have disposals available that adequately respond to very seriously harmful behaviour, address the current “cliff edge” of 18 and secure public confidence. These are significant policy issues for the Scottish Government to consider.

Police Scotland has also shared data with the subgroup. In response to an age of criminal responsibility of 14, the context and process for interactions between police officers and under 14s would change. This would be similar to the challenge in dealing with increasing the age to 12 but with an increased volume of relevant young persons. 

The impact on social work of a higher age of criminal responsibility is recognised by the subgroup. The subgroup is working with Social Work Scotland (SWS) on a survey which will identify data for all local authorities. The responses will inform a combined SCRA, COPFS, Police Scotland and SWS for the Advisory Group setting out common themes. 

The Advisory Group discussed the need to consider views from other partners such as mental health support and third sector organisations to ensure a joined up approach and consistent messaging. 

AOB: implementation update, themes for future meetings and date of next meeting

Lucy Smith provided an update on implementation of the ACR Act:

  • three sets of commencement regulations are in place, Scottish Government officials continue to work with partners to commence the remaining provisions in autumn 2021 
  • in addition to the final set of commencement regulations, there will be at least two other sets of regulations: one to establish the register of Child Interview Rights Practitioners (ChIRPS), the other on reporting requirements in relation to taking a child to a place of safety
  • regulations to establish the ChIRPs register have been laid in parliament, a recruitment exercise inviting solicitors to register their interest has been run, the closing date was 9 July 2021
  • the ChIRPs register will be operated by Scottish Government officials who are developing the process of how the register will be managed, and how the register will be accessed by operational colleagues in Police Scotland
  • section 104 Order (which will enable cross-border cooperation on provisions in Parts two and four of the Act) is expected to be in place in December 2021, there will be a slight gap between the proposed implementation of the Act and the section 104 Order coming into force
  • court rules are being developed, the Scottish Civil Justice Council discussed prospective changes to court rules when it met in July, the operational implications for court rules have been drafted and consulted on
  • two sets of Ministerial guidance (on the power to take a child to a place of safety and on the investigative interview) have been drafted and consulted on, SG officials are looking to finalise the guidance and are considering when would be best to publish, work on the list of places of safety is ongoing
  • SWS and Police Scotland are developing operational guidance and training for those who will be involved in investigative interviews, it is anticipated that the guidance will be finalised over summer 2021
  • communications and wider engagement will come more into focus over the coming weeks, Scottish Government officials are developing an animation to explain the changes to the legislation for victims, families and communities
  • the key messages for this were agreed by the ACR Implementation Programme Board and shared with the Community Confidence and Victim Support subgroups

Commencement of Part six of the Act will trigger the three year review period. The previous Minister for Children and Young People asked to hear from subgroups on the review and their comments on the recommendation to consider raising the age to 14 by the end of 2021, age 16 by the end of 2022 and age 18 by the end of 2024. Views were also invited on the most effective way to reassure the public that behaviours which cause harm will still be addressed outwith the criminal justice system.


Themes for future meetings

Members were asked to suggest themes for future meetings:

  • focus on Data and Research subgroup work on raising the age of criminal responsibility
  • communications, identify an opportunity to do something jointly involving all four subgroups
  • discussion on the Citizen’s Assembly approach from the Community Confidence subgroup: identify what is needed and potential risks

The date of the next meeting is 11 November 2021. The secretariat will issue calendar invitations for the coming year, and will be in touch with the chairs of the subgroups to agree the focus for the meeting in November, appreciating the need to balance work that is required for near-future as well as work that is required for the review period.

Post meeting note

The ACR Implementation Team invited the four subgroup chairs to meet to discuss and agree content for future meetings and were able to schedule a meeting on 21 September with the chairs of the Data and Research and the Operational Implications subgroups. Topics for meetings were discussed and will be taken forward. All members of the Advisory Group are welcome to suggest items for discussion.

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