A judge has ruled that the policy to treat 17 year olds as adults when in custody was “incompatible” with human rights law, and the current government legislation does not match.
Those under 16 are entitled to contact their parents or seek advice and assistance from an independent “appropriate” adult, but currently this is not the same for 17 year olds, despite legally being classed as children.
The case was raised by Hughes Cousins-Chang, who was arrested by Metropolitan Police for a suspected robbery, detained for more than 12 hours and strip searched at a police station, but subsequently found to be innocent.
Lord Justice Moses made the ruling as the current law disregards the definition of a child in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:
I conclude that it is inconsistent with the rights of the claimant and his mother, enshrined in Article 8 (of the European Convention on Human Rights) for the secretary of state to treat 17-year-olds as adults when in detention.
The ruling follows the high profile deaths of two 17-year-olds, Joe Lawton and Edward Thornber, who killed themselves after getting into trouble with police.
Senior police officers from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) are backing the change to the law so that 17-year-olds are treated as juveniles in custody and their parents are informed if they are arrested.
The chief constable of Cleveland police, Jacqui Cheer, who is the ACPO lead officer on issues involving children and young people, said:
The position of 17-year-olds as adults under Pace [the Police and Criminal Evidence Act] is not consistent with the way in which they are treated under other legislation, for example, the Children's Act 1989 and the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 not to mention the UN convention on the rights of the child.
We find this incongruous and would support a change in legislation to bring Pace into line with other legislation and for 17-year-olds to be treated as juveniles when in police custody.
However, this would require a change in legislation and is therefore properly a matter for government.
We do not feel it would appropriate for the police service to voluntarily act in contravention of legislation.
During the court hearing, the high court court heard that it could add an extra £21m to policing bills to reschedule 17-year-olds as children, and that part of the reason why the government have not changed this was down to the costs involved.
A Home Office spokesman said:
The Government believes the welfare and protection of all those held in police custody, especially young people, is extremely important.
We accept the court's judgment and will consider the next steps we should take to implement the changes.