A change in the law for youth’s held in custody

In February 2013 a charity, Just For Kids Law challenged the Home Office and Metropolitan Police Commissioner in the High Court by stating that 17 year olds in the UK being treated as adults at the police station does not sit correctly with UK or International Law.  The test case that they used to make this challenge was a teenager called Hughes Cousins-Chang.  Hughes was arrested in April 2012 on suspicion of stealing a mobile telephone, at the time of his arrest he was 17 years old. He was detained in police custody for 11 hours and during his time in custody his parents were prevented from speaking to him. He was eventually released without being charged. The challenge was supported by several families whose 17 year old children have been arrested and detained without their knowledge and then gone on to kill themselves after being released from police custody as the pressure and stress that they were under was too much for them to cope with.

On the 25th April 2013 the High Court ruled that 17 year olds must be treated as children not adults when they are detained in police custody.  Since Just For Kids Law made their challenge to the High Court in February 2013 the Home Office have been resisting any change in the law which would meant that a parent / guardian or appropriate adult would be informed of a 17 year olds arrest and asked to attend the police station to act as their appropriate adult, stating that offering this service would cost an additional £20 million pounds.

Since the High Court ruling the Home Secretary, Theresa May has been ordered to re draft Code C of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) which governs how young people at the police station should be treated.

When Lord Justice Moses handed down his judgment he said, “this case demonstrates how vulnerable a 17 year old may be. Treated as an adult he receives no explanation as to how important it is to obtain the assistance of a lawyer”.

Since the Judgment the Home Office have said that the Government believes that “the welfare and protection of all those held in police custody, especially young people, is extremely important”.

On the 13th June 2013 Superintendent Alan Greene provided written guidance to police forces in the UK in relation to how they should treat 17 year olds who are detained in police custody. It is hoped that Code C of PACE will be amended fully by October 2013 to reflect the High Court ruling. In the interim period whilst a change to Code C is awaited police forces are being advised to ask an Appropriate Adult to attend the police station for all 17 year olds. The Custody Sergeant should then speak to the young person about whether they wish a parent / guardian to be their appropriate adult or whether they wish to have a representative from the Appropriate Adult service.

The 17 year old should then be able to speak with the appropriate adult and have their legal rights repeated to them in their presence. If the 17 year old then states that they do not wish for the appropriate adult to remain then their wishes should be respected. The 17 year old should however be re advised of their right to have a person informed of their arrest and an appropriate adult regularly during their time in police custody and particularly at points when their detention in custody is being reviewed.

Emery Johnson have a dedicated criminal team that represent both adults and young people that are detained in police custody and interviewed by the police. This representation is free and independent. If you are arrested or have a child that is detained in police custody and you wish them to secure legal advice then please call 0116 255 4855. We have members of staff that work 24/7 365 days a year meaning that we can provide police station advice and assistance whenever you need us.