Age of Criminal Responsibility Programme Board minutes: February 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the Age of Criminal Responsibility Programme Board, held on 2 February 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Lesley Sheppard (Chair), Scottish Government, Care, Protection and Justice Division
  • Tom McNamara, Scottish Government, Care, Protection and Justice Division
  • Neil Hunter, Principal Reporter, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration
  • Gerard Hart, Chief Executive, Disclosure Scotland
  • Jim Thomson, Scottish Government, Police Division
  • Graham Thomson, Scottish Government, Police Division
  • Judi Heaton, Police Scotland
  • Richard Cockbain, Police Scotland
  • John Trainer, Chief Social Work Officer and Head of Child Care and Criminal Justice, Renfrewshire Council
  • Anna Donald, Scottish Government, Victims and Witnesses Unit, Criminal Justice Division
  • Rod Finan, Scottish Government, Office of Chief Social Work Adviser


  • Denise McKay, Scottish Government Legal Directorate
  • Clare Hicks, Scottish Government, Police Division
  • Iona Colvin, Scottish Government, Chief Social Work Adviser

Supporting officials

  • Lucy Smith, Scottish Government, Care, Protection and Justice Division
  • John McCutcheon, Scottish Government, Care, Protection and Justice Division
  • Sharon Glasgow, Scottish Government, Care, Protection and Justice Division

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions and apologies

The Chair welcomed board members to the meeting and noted the apologies.

Minutes, actions and matters arising

The Board approved the minutes of the meeting held on 18 November 2020.

The Board was updated on actions from the last meeting.

Implementation update

Draft risk matrix and definitions

Two papers had been circulated to support this agenda item (that is, the draft risk matrix tool, and a short a short paper setting out definitions and a description, the latter of which would sit in ministerial guidance).

The general consensus amongst the board members was that the suggested text was at a sufficiently high level to enable partners to develop operational guidance and training to ensure that the policy intentions of the Act are being met in practice.

Main points from the discussion included acknowledging the challenge of developing an all-embracing definition that was specific enough for there to be a common understanding across all agencies, with a need for flexibility to enable practitioners to apply professional judgement. Police Scotland remained concerned that that the suggested text would result in a greater number of children younger than 12 coming under the scope of the Act, which would, in turn, result in more investigative interviews than anticipated incidents.

The Chair invited Police Scotland to provide specific comments and wording to the definition as soon as possible, to help inform discussions with ministers.

Following discussions about the definitions, the board agreed to put consideration of the draft risk matrix on hold, until the definitions had been resolved.

Section 28 guidance

Police Scotland raised concerns about the revised guidance, and agreed to provide written feedback. Other concerns raised included where the places of safety would be, and the challenges that may be faced in the middle of the night, when identification of a place of safety would be needed very quickly.

Timing of full implementation

The Chair repeated Ministers’ intention for the Act to be fully commenced by Autumn 2021. The Chair shared the fact that the Act has not yet commenced had been raised at every evidence session during stage one of the UNCRC Incorporation Bill, and also during the stage one debate. The expectation is that MSPs to wish to include a commencement date on the face of that Bill, which will increase pressure to complete commencement of this Act in line with UNCRC Incorporation Act commencement.

Places of safety for forensic examination

A brief update was provided on places of safety for forensic examination. Scottish Government officials are now linked with the National Police Care Network from NSD (NHS National Services Scotland). A short life working group had been set up prior to coronavirus (COVID-19) to provide greater clarity on best practice for how children who are accused of rape and sexual assault and other serious offences are managed in terms of forensic medical examinations. The short-life working group has drafted a set of principles and an accompanying pathway which needs to be finalised in consultation with key partners. The intention is for the work to be completed in early 2021. Scottish Government officials will keep Programme Board updated with progress on this work, which will feed into places of safety for the purposes of this Act.

AOB and date of next meeting

There were no items for AOB.

The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday 20 April, meeting invites have already issued. Board members agreed to hold a short update meeting in early March.


  • Police Scotland to provide tracked changes to the definitions paper by 9 February

  • Police Scotland to provide written comments on the section 28 guidance paper as soon as possible

  • secretariat to arrange short meeting in early March

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