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Thematic Report on the Prosecution of Young People

The approach to youth justice in Scotland builds on the key principles and ethos of the highly influential Kilbrandon Report published in 1964. Concerned with legal provisions and systems to treat “children in trouble”, it concluded that there was little distinction between those who commit offences and those in need of care and protection and advocated, for both, a welfare-based approach.

Its visionary recommendations led to the establishment of the Children’s Hearing System, a distinct system with the responsibility of making decisions in the best interests of the child and where, for all but the most serious offences, children and young people who commit offences and those in need of care and protection are dealt with in the same forum, in the same way.

Over 50 years later research, underpinned by scientific evidence, has established a strong association between young people who have experienced some form of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and other adversities and those engaging in harmful or risk-taking behaviours bringing them into contact with the criminal justice system, whether as a perpetrator or as a victim. The recognition of the impact of prolonged exposure to stress and trauma in childhood resonates with the central premise of the Kilbrandon Report; that many young people who present a high risk of offending are often highly vulnerable, with complex needs.

The focus on early intervention and a welfare-centred approach to children and young people is at the heart of the current approach to Youth Justice in Scotland – Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) – offering the right help at the right time. It is a childcentred, welfare-focused approach promoting, in a multi-agency context, early interventions to respond to the first signs of harmful behaviour.

Tackling the cause and impact of offending behaviour through addressing the wider needs of the young person and keeping young people out of the formal criminal justice system, wherever possible, is a key objective of the Scottish Government’s Youth Justice Strategy.