In a landmark judgment handed down yesterday the High Court has ruled that 17 year olds who are arrested and held in Police custody should be treated as children.

As the law currently stands, 17 year olds are treated as adults which carries various implications for example, their parents are not informed that their son or daughter is being detained in custody nor is the detained person entitled to have the support of a family member or an ‘appropriate adult’ during police questioning.

The High Court has deemed this “unlawful.’

This landmark judgment is a major milestone in reform campaigns for to remove this legal anomaly in the Codes to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. This law is out of kilter with domestic and international provisions, which recognise that those aged 17 and under are children.

The case resulting in the judgment yesterday concerned a 17-year-old boy, identified as ‘HC’ in court, who was held in a London police station for 12 hours overnight on suspicion of robbery. The boy, with no previous convictions, was not allowed to call his mother to explain where he was or ask her to come to the police station. He was not offered the services of an appropriate adult. He was released without charge, but his family had been worried as he had been missing for several hours and they had not been told about his detention.

The Court stated that it was difficult to imagine a more striking case where both the rights of child and adult are engaged under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which provides a right to respect for one’s family life.

Lord Justice Moses stated that “this case demonstrates how vulnerable a 17 year old may be. Treated as an adult he receives no explanation as to how important it is to obtain the assistance of a lawyer.’

Joe Lawton took his own life after being kept overnight at Cheadle Heath Police Station, Greater Manchester without his parents knowledge because he was not classed as a child. Joe was stopped whilst driving his new car home from a party last August. Two days later he took his own life, using a shot gun from the family farm. Joe’s parents believe they could have given him more support had they been able to see him in the police cell.

Commenting on the ruling, Deborah Coles Director of the charity INQUEST said:

“INQUEST’s work on the deaths of children in custody has underlined the devastating consequences of treating 17 years in conflict with the law as adults. We welcome this really important judgment that should safeguard the lives of vulnerable children in police custody in the future.’

Here at Farleys our specialist lawyers deal with many inquests involving deaths in police custody and understand how difficult, stressful and complex the inquest procedure can be for families at such a devastating time. If you require legal assistance or simply wish to talk to one of our lawyers about obtaining legal representation at an inquest, please contact us.

By Kelly Darlington, Inquest Solicitor