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17 year olds in police custody to be treated as children, says the High Court

Police practice ‘inconsistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child’

In a judgment which strongly upheld children's rights under the UNCRC, Lord Justice Moses (sitting with Mr Justice Parker) has held that the UK government's practice of treating 17 year olds as adults, the failure to inform the parents of their child's arrest and the failure to provide an independent, appropriate adult to 17 year old children when detained and questioned at a police station about alleged criminal offences is "inconsistent with the UNCRC and the views of the United Nations Committee of the Rights of the Child."

The judgment concluded that:

"… it is inconsistent with the rights of the claimant and his mother, enshrined in Article 8 [European Convention on Human Rights], for the Secretary of State to treat 17 year-olds as adults when in detention.  To do so disregards the definition of a child in the UNCRC, in all the other international instruments to which the Strasbourg Court and the Supreme Court have referred, and the preponderance of legislation affecting children and justice which include within their scope those who are under 18.  The Secretary of State's failure to amend Code C is in breach of her obligation under the Human Rights Act 1998, and unlawful."

In February 2013, Coram Children's Legal Centre (CCLC) intervened in a High Court judicial review, R (on the Application of C) v The Secretary of State for the Home Department and The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2013] EWHC 982 (Admin).  CCLC challenged the current position under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and its Codes of Practice which treats 17 year olds as adults rather than children, denying them the right to contact their parents when arrested or to have an appropriate adult present when questioned by the police. CCLC maintained that the failure to treat 17 year olds as children contravenes the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which requires that all children under the age of 18 who are accused of criminal offences must be treated as juveniles.

Carolyn Hamilton, Director of International Programmes and Research at Coram Children's Legal Centre, welcomed the judgment:

"We are delighted that the court identified 'the need to correct the imbalance between the child and the criminal justice system' and that the interests and dignity of all children irrespective of their age must be respected as an essential part of UK human rights law.

 "We are very pleased with the judgment and Coram Children's Legal Centre now calls on the UK Government to rectify this unlawful, discriminatory anomaly in the criminal justice system and its codes of practice, to bring them into line with children's rights without delay."