What is Youth Justice? Reflections on the 1968 Act

Nina Vaswani, Fiona Dyer, Claire Lightowler

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

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he Kilbrandon committee was established in 1961 in response to concerns about rising levels of youth crime. Reporting in 1964, the committee observed that the needs of children in conflict with the law did not differ from the needs of children who required welfare and protection and proposed that these needs should be met through a single system. In a radical shake up of the youth justice system, this proposal was enacted in the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, and the first Children’s Hearing took place in 1971. This paper draws upon archival records, literature, data, media reports and testimony from policymakers and practitioners in order to chart the development of youth justice since that time. It describes policy and practice change since then that has been slow and incremental, rather than radical. And while the legacy of Kilbrandon has been a clear and strong set of principles acting as a beacon to guide both policy and practice, an unintended legacy is the often erroneous assumption that, because of Kilbrandon, Scotland is getting it right for children in conflict with the law. The paper documents the fact that, even with the best of intentions, policy and practice do not always adhere to such admirable principles when things get challenging. Inspired by Kilbrandon, the authors propose that the time is right for a big step change in how Scotland responds to children who are in conflict with the law, by genuinely and completely rooting the youth justice response in children’s rights.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationGlasgow
PublisherUniversity of Strathclyde
Commissioning bodySocial Work Scotland
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2018

Publication series

Name50th anniversary of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968
PublisherSocial Work Scotland


  • youth justice
  • Social Work (Scotland) Act
  • Kilbrandon committee
  • Kilbrandon report
  • children's hearing


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