Your guide to justice

Words and phrases in the justice system and in court are not always easy to understand.
Here’s our A-Z guide to what you might hear and what it means.

Additional Support Needs can be to do with the child’s health, disability, learning or family circumstances. Children with additional support needs are often not supported enough when they are in conflict with the law. Sometimes the speech, language and communication needs of children are not known or not understood. The needs and rights of children with different needs can often be ignored when they are in conflict with the law. 

The age of criminal responsibility is the age at which a person is considered old enough to understand the crime they have committed and able to take full responsibility for their actions. In Scotland this is age 12.

Bail is when the Court decides that you can stay at home or in a place that is agreed until your court case takes place. There will be things you have to agree to if you get bail – these are called conditions and they are the rules you have to follow. If you don’t agree or you break the conditions of your bail then you can be put on remand (see Remand for more information).

 A child is a person under the age of 18.  


The Children’s Hearings System is the care and justice system for children and young people. It aims to ensure that young people who commit offences, and children and young people who need care and protection, are supported through the same system. The current age of referral to CHS is 16. However, this means that children aged 16 and 17 can find themselves going through adult court – despite being a child. A consultation is being carried out to raise the age of referral to CHS to include 16 and 17 year olds.

Children’s rights are human rights. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, called the UNCRC for short,is the international agreement that sets out all the rights children have from birth to the age of 18. Read more about children’s human rights.

Childhood trauma is something scary, dangerous, violent or life threatening that happens to a child. This can be a one-off event or can be something that lasts for a longer time.   

When we say children in conflict with the law this means anyone aged 12 to 18 years old who comes into contact with the justice system because they are suspected or accused of committing an offence.  Children are sometimes treated like adults in the justice system, and this is something that should never happen.

A court is the place where a decision is made about whether someone has committed an offence (a crime) or not. There are different kinds of courts, they might have a Sheriff or a Judge who is in charge. 

A criminal record is a list of the offences/crimes that a person has been found guilty of doing. A person with a criminal record might be expected to say they have a criminal record when they apply for jobs or training, want to volunteer, or get a visa to travel abroad. This can include saying that a crime happened when they were a child. Read more about disclosure of childhood criminal records.

Deprivation of liberty means taking away someone’s freedom. It could mean they are put in secure care or a Young Offenders Institution or prison.

Early Intervention means that children and families get the help they need as soon as they need it, rather than waiting for a problem to happen.  

An infringement of rights is when your rights are ignored.

When we say the justice system, this could mean anything from:

  • Being involved with the police
  • Going to the children’s system because of this
  • Getting support from early and effective intervention or diversion from prosecution
  • Going to court
  • Time in secure care or a Young Offenders Institution

Movement Restriction Conditions (MRCs) is when your freedom of movement is restricted, as decided by the Children’s Hearing System. This takes the form of an electronic tag and a curfew; you may also be restricted in areas you can visit. You and your family will be given support to help you keep to these conditions.

Poverty means not having enough money for basic needs such as food or housing or doing the things that you would normally expect a person or family to be able to do. People can live in poverty even when they have a job, because they don’t get paid enough. In Scotland it is said that one in every four children live in poverty. 

Remand is where the Court decides that you will go to a secure care centre or Young Offenders Institution until your Hearing takes place.  See also Bail.

Restorative Justice is the process where victims get to meet with the people who caused them harm, and talk to each other in a safe and structured way. This gives people who have been harmed a way to deal with the aftermath of an offence or conflict, and for the person who has caused the harm to reflect on the consequences of actions taken.

When something is rights-respecting it means that a person, a group, an organisation or a place understands and protects everyone’s human rights. 

Secure care or secure accommodation is the most restrictive form of residential care for children aged under 18. It is for children who may be at risk of causing significant harm to themselves, or others in the community. 

Social justice means that every individual, group of people or community has the same opportunities in life, are treated equally and do not experience discrimination.  

A Young Offenders Institution is a place where young people 16 to 21 might be sent to if they are found guilty of a crime.   

For more information, we recommend these accessible resources on children’s rights in the justice system, and on the use of bail and remand with children in Scotland.  This short animation explains about how bail and remand work.