Should 17 year olds be treated as Children or Adult’s?

It is estimated that on average, each year 75,000 youths aged 17 years old are arrested and detained in police custody. If you are aged 16 years old and under and you are arrested then you are automatically entitled to have a parent or guardian informed of your arrest and also to have an Appropriate Adult. An Appropriate Adult could be your parent or guardian, a social worker or a person from the Appropriate Adult service. The role of an Appropriate Adult is to ensure that youths are being treated fairly whilst in custody, to be present during police interviews and to facilitate communication between youths and the police.

Once you turn 17 years old unless you are deemed to be vulnerable or you have a learning difficulty you are not entitled to an Appropriate Adult or to have your Parent or Guardian informed of your arrest. In essence in the UK once you turn 17 even though in other circumstances, you are still treated as a child, you are treated as an adult whilst you are in police 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 in particular the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children’s Act 2004. Currently in the UK it is down to the discretion of the Police whether or not they request an Appropriate Adult for a 17 year old and under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984, 17 year olds at the Police Station are treated in the same way as adults.

The challenge brought by Just For Kids Law is being supported by Nick and Jane Lawton whose 17 year old Son, Joe Lawton was arrested in the Summer of 2012 for drink driving. He had never been arrested before and was detained in police custody for 6 and a half hours, during this time he was treated as an adult, he was not given access to an appropriate adult and his parents were not informed of his arrest. 2 days after being released from custody he committed suicide. His parents believe that he ended his life due to his experience in police custody. They are adamant that if they had been informed of his arrest and had been able to attend the police station with him that he would still be alive now, they describe him as being “literally frightened to death” by the experience. The Judgement from the High Court in this case is still awaited however it does seem that both the public and professional bodies are becoming increasingly concerned about the way in which 17 year olds are currently being treated in police custody in the UK.

On the 3rd December 2012 LASPO came into force. It stands for Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. Under LASPO if you are a child (under the age of 18) that has been charged or convicted of an offence and have been remanded into custody or remanded to Local Authority accommodation, you are classed as a Looked After Child by your designated Local Authority and you will be allocated a social worker. Your designated Local Authority will either be the Local Authority where you are normally resident or the Local Authority from the area in which you committed the offence. As a Looked After Child a review of arrangements, which is a care planning meeting to review your placement will be held initially within 28 days or you being placed. A second Review will be held after 3 months and all future reviews will be held on a 6 monthly basis until the child reaches the age of 18.

One of the reasons why changes have been made to the youth remand system under LASPO is due to public concern that 17 year olds were being remanded like adults and not youths.

Emery Johnson have a specialist criminal team who deal with both youths and adults at the police station as well as at court. Emery Johnson also have a dedicated care department who regularly represent children or families that are involved with the Local Authority. If you are a child that requires legal advice or representation or you are a parent and feel that the issues raised in this article may apply to your child please call us on 0116 255 4855.