Should any young person under 18 be able to be referred to a children's hearing? The question is at the centre of a Scottish Government consultation opened today.
Currently only 16 and 17-year-olds who are already within the children’s hearing system can be referred or have their order continued until they are 18.
It is proposed to remove the bar on new referrals for that age group so all young people not yet 18 can benefit from the range of protective and supportive measures available through children’s hearings.
The consultation also asks whether improvements are needed to the advice and support available for young people who are victims of crime.
The 2019-20 Programme for Government made a commitment to consult on enabling joint reporting to the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service and the Principal Reporter of all 16 and 17-year-olds’ offence cases. This consultation would extend the proposal to all grounds for referral.
Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd explained: "We know many vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds currently fall outwith the children’s hearings system, and we want to ensure all children and young people get the right support, care and protection at the right time.
"Our consultation calls for views on whether all under-18s should be supported in a child-centred system. This includes vulnerable young people at risk of exploitation, abuse or harm due to their own behaviour or the behaviour of others.
"The responses to our consultation will be vital in considering the best way forward and I look forward to considering all views."
Neil Hunter, Principal Reporter and chief executive of the Scottish Children's Reporters Administration, commented: "This is a hugely important consultation. As Scotland moves ever forward in aiming to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and in keeping The Promise of the Independent Care Review, the need for us to have an inclusive and welfare based approach to the needs of all children is more critical than ever."
Kate Wallace, chief executive of Victim Support Scotland, added: "We welcome the launch of this consultation, and its aims to tackle the root causes of young offending, reducing the number of children and young people entering the criminal justice system. This will enable harmful behaviours involving children below 18 to be addressed on a case by case basis, and will ensure victims receive appropriate support and information.
"Victim Support Scotland believes that victims of child perpetrators must be as protected in the same way as victims who experience crime when the perpetrator is an adult. The voices and experiences of those affected by crime must be at the heart of any proposed changes."
Click here to access the consultation. The deadline for responses is 7 October 2020.