Diverting young people from prosecution: toolkit

Guidance for service providers on providing effective, tailored and appropriate interventions for young people who offend.

3. Priority target groups

Who should be the 'priority target groups' for diversion programmes?

Care should be taken in designing and implementing any diversion programme to ensure that it is used appropriately. Young people should not be diverted to social work programmes unless their offending behaviour is sufficiently serious to require such intervention. Many young people are better dealt with in other ways such as a warning, a fine or a compensation offer. Diversion should be seen as the highest tariff alternative to a prosecution and this approach should avoid net-widening and possible misuse of resources. There must always be sufficient evidence to prosecute before a young person can be diverted.

Diversion should be considered for all 16 and 17 year olds where there is sufficient evidence and the public interest does not require prosecution. Those who are 16 or 17 should not necessarily be exempt from diversion because:

  • they have been diverted to a programme previously. There may be other factors to consider which indicate the young person will benefit from diversion;
  • they have been diverted and are still working with services. It may be worth considering whether prosecution is appropriate if work to challenge the circumstances of their offending behaviour has not been completed;
  • they are subject to a court disposal such as a Community Payback Order.

There are some types of offences that may not generally be regarded as suitable for diversion. However, the facts and circumstances of a particular case may mean that diversion is an appropriate option, particularly given the young person's age. If there is a suitable diversion programme available, then consideration can be given to diversion programmes for offences listed below where the presumption is generally for prosecution. In the types of case listed below consideration for diversion should only be undertaken by COPFS in line with current prosecution policy for that type of offence and after the prosecutor considering the case has consulted with the District Procurator Fiscal:

  • Offences of a sexual nature
  • Domestic violence
  • Hate Crime offences

The general presumption is that the more serious the offence the more likely it is that the prosecution will be merited to satisfy the public interest. After the public interest test has been met, the important factor to consider is whether there are appropriate services in place that could assist the young person. These services must address risks and needs of the young person in tailored and targeted ways.


Email: youth.justice@gov.scot

Telephone: 0131 244 5443

Care and Justice Division
Scottish Government
Area 2-B North
Victoria Quay

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