As far as possible children should be kept out of the justice system, with considerable progress having been made over recent years in achieving this. However, for those children in conflict with the law who do end up in the justice system, the experience can be confusing and frightening, and it can be difficult for children, their families, and professionals to know where to find readily accessible, coordinated information. Therefore, this guide describes the stages a child aged under 18 could go through in the justice system in Scotland, from suspicion of having committed an offence through to support after completion of sentence.

The law, processes, practices, guidance and responsibilities are explained with links to further information and resources. It supports – but does not replace – the skills and requirements of relationship-based practice, partnership working and information sharing.

For simplicity the guide shows the journey as a sequence of stages on a map: in reality, local practice may vary, and children may move back and forth between different stages. The dominant focus is also on those children who progress to court and possible disposals, but as stated a number of children in conflict with the law will not enter formal systems or will exit the justice system prior to court.

It is important to remember that a child’s journey through the justice system takes place within the wider context of child and adult support and protection. Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) and A Rights-Respecting Approach to Justice for Children and Young People: Scotland’s Vision and Priorities, while Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements and equality are also relevant. All practice must also respect, protect and fulfil children’s rights. For more details about the law and practice in these topics, see the Appendix.

We have also developed Journey through Justice, which is an interactive online resource designed specifically to help children and young people understand the journey through the youth justice system, following being charged with an offence by the police.

Using the map

The map portrays the young person's journey as a series of stages. It reads from top to bottom with some stops offering branches onto other paths – for example the Sentence stage branches onto Community-based disposals, Secure Care or Young Offender's Institutions, reflecting the sentencing options of the youth and criminal justice system in Scotland.

There are three ways to traverse the map: by using the links on the map illustration itself, by using the 'next' or 'previous' links at the bottom of every page, or via the site menu that can be revealed by activating the menu icon at the top right of your window.

Start the journey