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Concordat on Children in Custody: Preventing the detention of children in police stations following charge

A night in a cell is an intimidating experience. Police custody facilities are designed to detain adults suspected of criminal activity, and they offer little in the way of comfort or emotional reassurance. For a child – especially one deprived of familial support – a prolonged stay in this environment can be harmful.

Children brought into police custody are in a particularly vulnerable position; not only by virtue of their age, but also because of the circumstances which brought them into contact with the police. They may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, recovering from a recent trauma or coming to terms with events that may
have a lasting impact on their lives. Judged even against the reduced capability of a child, they will not be in a strong position to cope with the stressful and demanding nature of a night in police custody.

The law already recognises that police cells are not a suitable place for children. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 requires the transfer of children who have been charged and denied bail to more appropriate Local Authority accommodation, with a related duty in the Children Act 1989 for Local Authorities to accept these transfers. Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 requires both police and Local Authorities to have regard to the welfare and protection of children welfare of children, and in 1991 the UK ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, agreeing that custody be used “only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”.

Despite this, failings have been identified by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary (The welfare of vulnerable people in custody, March 2015), the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children (“It’s all about trust”: Building good relationships between children and the police, October 2014), the Criminal Justice Joint Inspection and the Inspection of Youth Offending (Who’s looking out for the children?: A joint inspection of Appropriate Adult provision and children in detention after charge, December 2011) and the Howard League for Penal Reform (The overnight detention of children in police cells, 2011). It is clear that, in many cases, the law is not being followed and children are not receiving the support to which the law entitles them.

In this concordat we recognise that we must work together to ensure that legal duties are met. A diverse group of agencies has contributed to this document, in recognition of the fact that a child’s journey from arrest to court is overseen by a variety of professionals with varying duties. Each is entrusted with the responsibility, not only to ensure that justice is done and that the public is protected, but to ensure that it is done humanely and in full accordance with the law. This concordat sets out – clearly and with the agreement of those involved - the role that each should play to ensure that this responsibility is fulfilled.