Children under the age of 12 will no longer be treated as offenders as from today (29 November), as the raised age of criminal responsibility comes into force.

Legislation in force since 2011 has prevented those under 12 from being prosecuted in court; now, under the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019, they will no longer be treated as offenders through the children’s hearings system.

Any child involved in harmful behaviour will have their needs addressed without being treated as a criminal. Harmful behaviour will continue to be recognised and investigated, with victims respected and responded to appropriately. An independent reviewer will be appointed to scrutinise any potential release of information relating to when a person was aged under 12.

A child aged from 12 but who has not yet reached their 16th birthday may only be prosecuted for an offence on the instructions or at the instance of the Lord Advocate. Following pressure for a higher minimum age, an advisory group has been set up to review the Act’s provisions once they are fully implemented, including to consider raising the age further. Ministers hope to commence the Act in full by the end of next year.

Children’s Minister Maree Todd commented: "Evidence shows that responding to childhood behaviour in a criminalising, stigmatising way serves only to promote escalation and further harm. That is neither in the interests of the child, nor of the safety of our communities. 

"This marks the first chapter of a groundbreaking reform. The Act will deliver a progressive, child-centred approach that will make a real difference to children’s lives, while victims will continue to get the support they need."