Published on February 26th, 2013 |
by Isabelle Mngadi
Image © woven in my heart
Detention! Why the treatment of 17-year-olds needs to change
In an ongoing challenge to the High Court, the way in which 17-year-olds are treated by the criminal justice system is likely to change in the near future. This will signal a significant and long-overdue increase in the rights afforded to young people as they experience this complicated and often overwhelming process.
Just for Kids Law is a charity which supports the rights of young people and provides them with legal support and advice. Today, it challenged the High Court in response to the case of a 17-year-old boy who was arrested on suspicion of robbery. He was detained for 12 hours overnight before being released without charge.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every person under 18 must be treated as a child (and the UK the age of majority is 18). In theory, this would mean that for 17-year-olds who are arrested, the attendance of an appropriate adult would be mandatory. However, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) code of practice issued by the home secretary, in the context of arrest, 17-year-olds are treated as adults and only given the protections afforded to other children at the discretion of the police. This means that for the 75,000 17-year-olds who are taken into custody every year, it is not compulsory for an adult to be present, nor be informed of the arrest.This is what happened in the case of the accused robber.
The measures protecting children have been put in place to protect the rights and well-being of young people. With all the pressures, procedures and jargon involved in an arrest and the ensuing judicial process, it is important that any young person is fully informed of what is happening to them. Shauneen Lambe, director of Just for Kids Law describes this incongruous treatment of young people as “detrimental”, and on this basis, the charity is arguing that the home secretary and Metropolitan Police are in violation of international and domestic law, and that the police are failing in their statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, under section 11 of the Children Act 2004. Hopefully this challenge to the High Court will result in greater protection for young people, and help to clear up discrepancies in the law.