Arrested 17 year olds can no longer be detained overnight at police stations, following a late amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.
The change addresses a legal anomaly allowing the definition of ‘juvenile’ to include those under the age of 18 years. It follows a campaign by the legal charity Just for Kids Law who highlighted the plight of the families of three arrested 17 year olds who, following detention, committed suicide.
You can read about Kesia Leatherbarrow, a 17-year old who took her own life in December 2013 here.
Her death was, according to Just For Kids Law, the third teenage suicide in three years ‘linked to failures to treat 17 year olds in police station as children’. After the suicides, Just for Kids Law began legal action against Theresa May for failing to change the PACE regime to ban the overnight detention of 17 year-olds in police stations.
In the High Court case of R (HC) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department – see here on www.thejusticegap.com – the High Court declared it unlawful to treat 17 year-old detainees as adults and to deny their right to have a parent present with them in custody. Lord Justice Moses concluded that ‘the need to include 17 year-olds within the scope of those afforded special protection in custody seems almost unanswerable’.
That case concerned Hughes Cousins-Chang, then a sixth-form student, who together with his friend were arrested by Metropolitan Police officers on a bus outside Tooting Broadway. It was shortly after his 17th birthday. The pair was suspected of a mobile phone robbery. They were later found to be innocent but not before they were handcuffed, cautioned and taken to Battersea police station. His request that his mother be informed of his arrest was refused. Cousins-Chang was on the panel at last year’s Mind the Justice Gap debate at City hall – picture with Just for Kids Law’s Shauneen Lambe and Nicky Gavron.
Martina Brincat Baines, mother of Kesia, led the campaign. Her petition secured just under 30,000 signatures in a single week. A legal challenge was undertaken by Just for Kids Law, with barristers from Doughty Street Chambers acting pro-bono.
‘We welcome the government’s change of heart and the recognition that 17 year olds should be treated as children first and potential defendants second. It is just a shame that it took so long, and it was only after we had begun legal proceedings, a second time, that ministers finally acted.’
Shauneen Lambe, JfK barrister
Martina Brincat Baines said that she hoped that this change would prevent families from suffering ‘as we are’. She described the detention process as having a ‘devastating impact’ on Kesia, and welcomed the compulsory transfer of 17 year olds to local authority accommodation.