Islington Council is to review its practice of holding children in police cells overnight. Legal action has been brought on behalf of a vulnerable 14 year old boy kept overnight on multiple occasions since March this year because the London borough did not provide alternative accommodation for him.
Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 when a juvenile is detained at a police station, the police should move them to local authority accommodation unless it is ‘impracticable’ to do so. There is a corresponding obligation on local authorities to receive these children under the Children Act. The case is supported by the legal charity Just for Kids Law and is part of their #NoChildinCells campaign launched yesterday. The group has made a film interviewing a number of children who had been detained in police cells and their parents (here).
Islington council has a poor record of accommodating children. According to a freedom of information request, the council received 94 requests from the Metrpolitan Police to provide a bed for a child being held at the police station – yet they did not accommodate a single one of these children. The Howard League for Penal Reform reported in 2011 that 40,000 children were detained over night at police stations.
In an article for LegalVoice, director of Just for Kids Law Shauneen Lambe writes: ‘We are faced with a situation where thousands of children are being detained in police cells over night, despite the law clearly stating that they shouldn’t be.’
According to Lambe, police and local authorities ‘point the finger at each other’. ‘The local authorities say that they don’t have any secure beds available,’ she says. ‘The police may insist that a secure bed is what’s needed, as a child poses a risk to the public of serious harm. The local authority may say there is no risk, and a non-secure bed would be suitable, and so it goes on. While, the police and local authorities argue among themselves, it is the arrested children who suffer.’
‘No child should be locked up in a police cell simply because alternative accommodation isn’t available,’ said Louise King, director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England . According to their research in London alone nearly 8,000 children were detained in police cells overnight – including three 11 year old girls. ‘Police, local authorities and politicians urgently need to work together to put an end to this,’ she added.
The legal action, brought by the law firm Hodge Jones & Allen and human rights barristers Doughty Street, is supported by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield. ‘Custody suites are not designed to accommodate children….very few have facilities specifically for children; the environment is accordingly an intimidating one,’ she wrote in a witness statement. ‘Cell areas lack comfort and the provision of emotional support is almost entirely absent.’
Islington council has promised to launch a review which (it says) ‘will have the remit to investigate, learn from and make recommendations in relation not only to the facts of the present case but also in relation to any wider issues there may be in Islington’.
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award