Age of Criminal Responsibility Advisory Group minutes: November 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 29 November 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Ms Natalie Don, Minister for Children, Young People and The Promise

  • Ian Donaldson, Deputy Director for Children’s Rights Protection and Justice, Scottish Government
  • Tom MacNamara, Youth Justice and Children’s Hearings Unit, Scottish Government
  • Pamela Semple, Children’s Hearing Advocacy and Age of Criminal Responsibility Review, Scottish Government
  • Mel Parkinson, Children’s Hearing Advocacy and Age of Criminal Responsibility Review, Scottish Government
  • Kenzy Thomson, Children’s Hearing Advocacy and Age of Criminal Responsibility Review, Scottish Government
  • Sharon Glasgow, Social Work Scotland
  • Fiona Dyer, Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ)
  • Neill Mitchell, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA)
  • Alistair Hogg, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA)
  • Fiona Steel, Action for Children
  • Carol Eden, Victim Support Scotland
  • Martin McLean, Police Scotland
  • Stephanie Stirling, Police Scotland
  • Natalie Cook, Police Scotland
  • Alison Reid, Clan Childlaw
  • Lesley Swanson, Bairn’s Hoose Unit, Scottish Government
  • Lynsey Smith, Includem
  • Kirsty Nelson, Children’s Hearings Scotland
  • Jillian Ingram, COSLA
  • Laura Buchan, Crown of Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • Wendy Dalgleish, Scottish Legal Aid Board
  • Anthony Mcllvaney, Children and Young People’s Commissioner


  • Carron McKellar,Police Scotland
  • Mick Doyle, Scottish Community Development Centre
  • Megan Farr, Children and Young People’s Commissioner

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping The Promise welcomed members to the meeting.  There then followed  a round of introductions. 

Apologies were noted from Carron McKellar (Police Scotland), Mick Doyle (Scottish Community Development Centre) and Megan Farr (Children and Young People’s Commissioner). 

Minutes and actions from last meeting

The minutes of the previous meeting on 5 June 2023 were agreed and will be published on the advisory group website. 

Police Scotland dip sampling exercise 

This exercise was commissioned by the data and research subgroup to assess cases for children aged 12-17 years old.

The first phase of the exercise is now complete with Police Scotland reviewing 205 cases. The detailed report of the findings will be issued to group members in due course. 

The cases have been ranked against the four Police Scotland crime categories:

  • group 1 - (non-sexual crimes of violence – most serious of cases) 33 of 205 cases
  • group 2 - (sexual crimes) 62 of 205 cases
  • group 3 - (crimes of dishonesty – house crimes, motor vehicle crime etc.) 58 of 205 cases
  • group 4 - (crimes of fire-raising, malicious mischief etc.) 52 of 205 cases

Police Scotland noted that the exercise has outlined a potential for gap and risk regarding victim safety under an extended age of criminal responsibility commenting that the safeguard process for those victims would not be as robust as it is now for these age groups. 

As this is the first phase there will be an opportunity for a multi-agency reviewing and response to those cases assessed. 

Learning event 2024 

The next learning event will take place on 30th January 2024 in Edinburgh. The draft programme and a questionnaire were issued in advance for members to consider.

The last learning event looked at both pre and post commencement of the age of criminal responsibility Act. The report for this has been published on the advisory group webpage. 

The aim of the 2024 learning event is to focus on the learning from 2022 - 2023 and what this has looked like in practice. The event will also focus on the remaining key challenges with opportunities to discuss how to make progress and identify actions  needed to take forward within the final year of the review period. 
The Minister welcomed members’ comments on the draft programme for 30 January.

  • it was suggested that colleagues should link with Gordon Main regarding the Language leaders work to see if this could be considered as a slot on the programme
  • it was also agreed to not focus solely on the use of police powers but to have a focus also on instances where they have not been used and what the outcomes have been for those cases
  • it was noted that given the low number of age of criminal responsibility incidents since full commencement, when hearing from a child interview rights practitioner we would need to ensure information was anonymised
  • instead of having a young person at the event it was suggested that children and young people’s centre for justice could help facilitate a pre-recorded video to be shown on the day

Members of the group agreed that it would be beneficial to hear about the Edinburgh Law study on the Scottish experience of age of criminal responsibility. Lesley McAra and Susan McVie who led this piece of work are happy to present this paper at the learning event. 

Update from Subgroups 

Data and research

The subgroup’s remit was to consider the existing data and research around increasing the age to 18 and the gaps associated with this. 

The subgroup has engaged with other European countries on the age of criminal responsibility in Luxembourg, Portugal and Sweden. A report on the findings of this research has been submitted previously to the advisory group. 

A template was created for social work to complete on a voluntary basis looking at incidents which have occurred under the legislation. Since commencement of the act there has only been six cases which makes capturing data challenging. The template monitors the support and response to these incidents. 

The subgroup also supported Scottish children's reporter administration on research looking at offending by 12 to 15 year-olds. This work was commissioned by the advisory group and a report of the findings have been published on the Scottish children's reporter administration website. Scottish children's reporter administration are looking at doing additional research following on from previous research on 12 to 15 offending.

The subgroup will work with police Scotland looking at the dip sampling exercise and are also look at the priorities going forward and what actions they would need to take to support any increase in the age of criminal responsibility.

The next meeting of the group is on the 1st February 2024. 

Members of the group were keen to explore engagement with other countries particularly around prosecution processes and also cross-border implications.

Operational implications

The operational implications subgroup was established to look at the operational implications of any increase in the age of criminal responsibility and to identify what future capabilities would need to be put in place. 

The subgroup will provide a joint multi-agency report on the operational implications of a future age for each organisation to advisory group in advance of the next meeting. 

Two particular issues that are important to highlight as key operational implications:

  • harmful behaviour by a child from outwith Scotland who then returns home to England or other country and is under 12. At present there is no statutory response for this: if the age of criminal responsibility were to increase this would become a significant issue
  • any child who is going through the criminal justice system aged 12 years and over who is involved in the most serious of cases and who has disposals that go beyond their 18th birthday. Looking at previous existing data this is a very small number of children. It is important to recognise that anything done through the children’s hearing system has to end at 18. If the age of criminal responsibility is to increase, there will be an increase in cases so there is a particular challenge around the shift in systems and what can be done for these types of cases

The Minister was interested to hear more about cross-border circumstances. Scottish Government colleagues noted that they had met with UK Government colleagues and a Youth offending team leader for England learn more about their processes. It was confirmed that the youth offending teams can organise informal arrangements where police can contact other regions but at the moment there is no possibility of a formal statutory response. 

Victim support 

The subgroup last met in September 2023 to talk through its work plan and to agree a distinct purpose of the group.

The group will create a report to review the current legislation looking at people affected by crime, the current routes and options for people causing harm/offending, the role of relevant agencies, and to consider the impact of an increased age of criminal responsibility. This report will be submitted at the next advisory group meeting.

Community confidence 

The subgroup has revisited the issue of intergeneration work and have reached out to Age UK to facilitate sessions with people aged 50 and over and young people regarding the issues around age of criminal responsibility. 

Scottish government colleagues are holding a workshop with the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) on the 14 December to gather insight and understanding of age of criminal responsibility.  Scottish Youth Parliament have also conducted a Twitter poll asking two questions regarding age of criminal responsibility. A report on the findings of the survey and the workshop will be shared with the group. 

The group have examined recent print media coverage and a tracker has been created to determine how this topic is presented to the community. The group also wants to investigate further the role of social media and how that influences communities. The Daily Record campaign has a ‘Our Kids ... Our Future campaign’ the group are keeping a watching brief on this to see if this could be a useful vehicle to communicate key messages.

The subgroup will examine the issues around increased violence and behaviour issues both at primary and secondary school. 

Subgroup members are drafting questions to include in an omnibus survey to ensure we get a better baseline on the public’s views on ACR. 

The group have identified the need for a toolkit for engaging with communities across Scotland on age of criminal responsibility. 

The Group identified the real need for a form of pictorial ‘journey of justice’ which lays out a step-to-step guide about what happens to a young person and the activities they have to complete to address their behaviour as an alternative to being prosecuted. It was felt dip sampling might work help with this endeavour. It was suggested that the group could look at children and young people’s centre for Justice journey through justice as a starting point. 

Review planning 

The review period was coming into the final year. The advisory group must report to Scottish Minister’s on the review by December 2024. Scottish Ministers would then have until December 2025 to report to parliament on any decision to increase the age of criminal responsibility. 

The next advisory group meeting was scheduled for March 2024. To allow group members to provide substantial contributions to the work of the subgroups, it was suggested that the next two meetings of the advisory group focus on the outcomes and outputs of each subgroup in detail. 

With support from advisory group members, each subgroup would collate findings from their specific work and produce a report detailing the barriers and gaps within the current legislation. The advisory group would come together to discuss its proposed recommendations on any future change to the age of criminal responsibility once all four subgroups had been able to submit their findings. 

It was agreed that a report to Scottish Ministers with recommendations should be in draft form by the September 2024 meeting for members to review and sign off. 

Membership of young people

The group are committed to ensuring the voices and opinions of Scotland’s young people are heard and reflected through this area of work. It was noted that attending these meetings is not always the most appropriate way for young people to support this work. Advisory group members discussed possible ways that they could engage with young people on any potential raising of the age of criminal responsibility. 

It was suggested that a reference group of young people could be established to seek their input to this area. Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice and action for children both have groups that they could seek input from children and young people. 

Any other business  

It was agreed by members of the group that meetings were more productive when held in-person and for the next meeting to take place in Glasgow in March 2024.  

Children’s Care and Justice Bill update 

Tom McNamara provided an update on the children’s care and justice bill and thanked members for their input to the consultation and evidence sessions during stage 1. Stage 2 would commence in January 2023 with stage 3 expected to follow in early springtime. 

An update on the work of the Bill will be provided at the next meeting.


  • secretariat to issue date of the next meeting for March 2024 in Glasgow
  • Fiona Steel and Fiona Dyer to discuss engaging with children and young people through existing groups
  • members of the group to consider report on Police Scotland dip sampling exercise once this has been issued
  • members to complete questionnaire on learning event programme
  • Scottish government to link in with Gordon Main on language leaders project as a possible slot for the learning event
  • Fiona Dyer to explore further details with other European countries on cross-border implications, victim support and community confidence
Back to top