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August 16th 2017

Civil Liberties

Laws around detention of children are stringent and it is in police forces’ interest to keep lowering arrest numbers

Andrew Petherbridge

Andrew Petherbridge

Legal Executive, Civil Liberties

Laws around detention of children are stringent and it is in police forces’ interest to keep lowering arrest numbers

It was certainly positive to see the news earlier this week that the number of children arrested in England and Wales has fallen by 64 per cent over the past six years.

It was certainly positive to see the news earlier this week that the number of children arrested in England and Wales has fallen by 64 per cent over the past six years.

Academic research has suggested that keeping children out of criminal justice is key to reducing the likelihood of them being arrested when they get older, as the more contact a child has with the legal system, the more likely they are to offend again.

Police certainly face a difficult job when handling incidents involving children aged 17 and under.

I am sure that many officers out on the beat are minded to do their very best to engage with young people, develop an understanding with children in their communities and do their best to avoid making arrests.

It has been very positive to read how the Chief Constable of Durham Police has met each of his officers individually to impress upon them a problem-solving approach rather than a reliance on arrests.

Surrey Police has also given training to all custody and frontline staff, focusing on the need to reduce the number of children arrested, running an internal communications campaign to encourage people to see the “child first and the offence second”.

There are many benefits to reducing the number of children arrested, and it certainly will make life easier for police forces if they can continue to cut arrests.

Police forces must follow stringent rules when taking children into custody

It is worth reflecting upon how stringent the rules are that police forces have to follow when taking a child aged 17 or under into custody.

There is a large amount of strict procedures which police must adhere to, but in our work at Hudgell Solicitors in supporting victims of unlawful detention, we find these are often not followed, perhaps at times due to pressures on officers and custody sergeants, or even at times due to lack of knowledge of that area of law.

Police forces can find themselves in breach of the laws if they detain children in adult cells after charging them with an offence, as under the law, anyone under 18 should be bailed to their homes or transferred to accommodation through their local authority.

It is my experience that this is not always the case, leading to many children being wrongly detained in the cells.

Once a decision has been taken to release a child the police have no power to detain them and must release them when an appropriate adult comes to collect them. Being held in adult cells is not appropriate, or legal.

The figures on child arrests, published in a Howard League briefing, show there were 87,525 children arrested in 2016 (down from almost 250,000 in 2010), with 703 arrests of primary-age children aged 10 and 11.

That is a great success, as all but four forces have brought down their number of arrests by more than half in this time, with just forces recording slight increases in child arrests last year.

The benefits to this can be huge. Police forces are not facing the huge challenges the law throws up when taking a child into custody, and young people are increasingly making better starts to their lives, where being in and out of police cells is not allowed to become a way of life.

Positive steps have been made ensuring that thousands of children now have brighter futures and are not becoming entrenched in lives of crime and custody.

However, the statistics still show that a child was arrested every six minutes in England and Wales in 2016 – a massive issue not only for young people but also for police forces in their handling of the cases – so there is still a great deal of work to be done.

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