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A new report is calling for major changes to the youth justice system in Scotland


Children and Young People’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson has welcomed a groundbreaking new report that argues Scotland’s youth justice system needs reform if it is to be truly rights respecting.

As  the Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice launched their report, the Commissioner stressed that Scotland’s law, policy and practice must be continually challenged for children to experience a justice system that upholds their rights.

A comprehensive examination of Scotland’s youth justice system

 ‘Rights Respecting? Scotland’s approach to children in conflict with the law’ waslaunched at tonight’s Kilbrandon Lecture on children’s services and the rights of children.

The report is the first piece of work that comprehensively examines Scotland’s youth justice system from a rights-based perspective, translating the UNCRC into specific actions for Scotland to improve policy, practice and experience in youth justice.

The Scottish Government has committed to incorporating the UNCRC into domestic law in Scotland by 2021, recognising that a significant change is required if children’s rights are to be progressed.

Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner said:

“Children who come into conflict with the law have the right to be treated with humanity and dignity, and in a way that takes into account the needs of their age. This robust and impressive report is the first piece of work that comprehensively examines Scotland’s youth justice system from a rights-based perspective. It demands that we look critically at our society and how we value children.

“We need to continue to challenge law, policy and practice from a rights perspective in order for children to experience a justice system that upholds their rights, fully supports their needs, and crucially, recognises first and foremost that they are children.

“The Scottish Government has committed to incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law next year which will allow children and their families legal redress should their rights not be respected, protected and fulfilled. This report is a significant milestone on that journey to a youth justice system where children’s human rights are fully embedded.”

Report author and Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice Director Dr Claire Lightowler said:

“Children’s rights are not optional. What we are seeing is that many children who come into conflict with Scotland’s ‘youth justice’ system do not experiencing ‘justice’ in the true meaning of the word.

“How can there be justice in holding society’s most traumatised children solely responsible for their actions, putting them through processes they do not understand, blaming and stigmatising them whilst failing to give them what they need?

“At the heart of this report is an argument for a shift from viewing children in conflict with the law as troubled, challenging and vulnerable, to children as being rights holders. Rights are for all children, and it is worrying when we fail to fulfil our legal and moral obligations to the very children we are holding to account through our justice system.

Scotland’s minimum age of criminal responsibility is lower than internationally acceptable

One of the report’s recommendations to Scottish Government is for them to carry out a review on the practice and policy implications of raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility further. This review should be conducted with the intention of Scotland adopting a minimum age of at least 14, while also looking at higher minimum ages than this.

At 12 years old, Scotland’s minimum age of responsibility is below the minimum acceptable international standard: the UN has been clear a minimum age of at least 14 is required in human rights terms.

This affirms what our office has always said: that a minimum age of criminal responsibility of 12 simply isn’t high enough.


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