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Preventing the detention of children in police stations following charge

A concordat published yesterday by the Home Office and signed by police forces and local authorities identifies that although the bar to justify detention of children after charge is currently “very high”, indicators suggest the intended threshold is not always met.

There is currently a “presumption that they will be granted bail”. “It ensures children will spend as little time as possible in police custody and, in ideal circumstances, allow the child to return home in advance of their court appearance.”

We know this is the policy however from weekly experiences and intense discussions with custody sergeants this is almost always not adhered to. From our own practice and our battles to do the best for our clients, we know how hard it can be to ensure that children are not inappropriately detained

The concordat sets out seven key principles for signatories to work towards to address the situation which includes:

  • Bailing children whenever possible (this includes instead of arresting and taking them straight into custody, bailing them to a more appropriate time or keeping them overnight to be interviewed the next day)
  • An expectation that children who have been denied bail will be transferred to suitable accommodation whenever practicable, secure accommodation will be requested only when necessary, and local authorities will always accept requests for non-secure accommodation.

The Home office document states that “This concordat will have been successful when we see a decline in the number of children held overnight and when government, inspectorates, local safeguarding bodies, pressure groups and charities can scrutinise the case of any child held in police custody and have no doubt that the child is being held in full accordance with the law,”.

Research by the Howard League for Penal Reform from 2013 found that 40,716 children under the age of 17 were held overnight in police cells in 2011, including 2,292 children aged 10 to 13.

Most defence lawyers have been in police stations at 10:00pm at night arguing that it is not appropriate for our young clients to be kept in overnight and if they are not willing to do the interview, seeking bail as soon as possible.

The concordat was developed by the Home Office and Department for Education alongside organisations including the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the Association of Independent LSCB Chairs, the Youth Justice Board, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, has been signed by 87 top tier local authorities and 24 out of 39 English police forces.

We believe that the concordant will be a vital new tool when we argue for our young clients to be released to ensure they are not kept in custody any longer then they need to be.