Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility: Lessons from the Scottish experience

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This paper explores the history of the reforms in Scotland which led up to the raising of the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) in 2019, from age 8 to 12. It also showcases research evidence, from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, which indicates that there is both an ethical and empirical case for raising the MACR further, to at least 15. As we will argue, the Scottish experience demonstrates the dangers for governments of deploying punitive narratives around youth crime as a means of building political capacity. While progressive policy transformations, aimed at avoiding the criminalisation of children, have been hard won, fears that such practices are ‘soft options’ that will drive up youth offending are unfounded. Edinburgh Study findings demonstrate that the lives of children involved in serious offending are blighted by poverty and early trauma: factors beyond their capacity to control. They also demonstrate that diversionary and holistic approaches to dealing with children’s needs are associated with reductions in offending. Consequently, whilst the Scottish experience should give confidence to policy-makers about the positive impact that raising the MACR brings, we conclude that this is only a minimum necessary step in delivering justice for children.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Issues in Criminal Justice
Early online date25 Oct 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Oct 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • MACR
  • age of criminal responsibility
  • youth justice
  • policy transformation
  • diversion
  • early intervention
  • criminalisation of children
  • Edinburgh study
  • stigmatization
  • labelling
  • punitiveness
  • Scotland


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