In order to answer the question “when can someone be tried as an adult in the UK?” it is important to understand the legal aspects of when someone is considered an adult. In some respects, this can vary- for example in recent times the age of when you can purchase cigarettes raised from 16 to 18, and there have been calls to legally restrict the sale of high caffeine energy drinks. There are also other variations in terms of adulthood and responsibility that you need to be wary of, as this can vary in the UK.

Adult responsibility

In England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, a minor is anyone who is under the age of 18. However, this is not the same as not being responsible for your actions- in this instance (referred to as “the age of criminal responsibility”) is at the age of 10 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, while in Scotland the age of criminal responsibility is around the age of 12.

If someone of this age breaks the law, then it is likely that their case will be referred to the Youth Offending Team. In more serious cases where they could potentially be sent to a Young Offender Institution.

Age specific

Some restrictions are age specific- an obvious example being certificated films. In the United States, younger people can see films that are PG13 or R rated alongside consenting parents. In the UK, if you are under the age of 15 or 18 then you can’t see the film, regardless of whether or not you are accompanied by an adult.

There are also other restrictions- in recent years the age to get an HGV (heavy goods license) has been reduced to 18. However, some vehicles still only allow people over the age of 21 to run them, and if you want to run a licensed premises you have to be over the age of 21.


What this essentially means is that in legal terms, if you are under the age of 18 then you are not likely to be tried as an adult in the UK. However, depending on where you are you will still be expected to be responsible for your own actions from the age of 10 or 12.

In legal terms, this means that if your child breaks the law then they may well end up in a young offender institution as opposed to a prison. From the age of 18, it is more likely that they will be sent to prison for their actions. As with adults, this will depend on the severity of the crime and may result in a caution or fine as opposed to jail time.

If you have a child that has broken the law and want more information on this please get in touch. At Larcomes, we recognise this can be difficult to deal with. Contact our legal specialist team and we will be happy to go over your individual circumstances in more detail.