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Treatment of arrested 17-year-olds challenged

MINORS CHANGE: The treatment of 17-year-olds in police custody is being challenged

THE WAY 17-year-olds are treated in police custody in England and Wales could be changed due to a High Court challenge.

Although people of that age are legally defined as a minor, a 17-year-old becomes classified as an adult when arrested and detained by police, meaning they do not receive automatic legal help of an adult – police arrest it is the only time when they are treated as an adult, not a child.

Anyone who is 16 or under is provided with legal support as soon as they are in police custody.

The move to change how police classify minors comes after a 17-year-old spent 12 hours overnight in a London police station, held on suspicion of robbery. The teenager, who did not have a criminal record, was released without charge.

Under current rules he was not allowed to contact an appropriate adult, such as a parent or guardian to inform them of his whereabouts.

A number of lawyers view the current disparity of treatment between 17-year-olds and younger minors as a flaw that should be changed in order to make the legal system more consistent.

75,000 17-year-olds are brought into police custody each year, according to Home Office statistics.

In 2009, Northern Ireland changed its law to recognise the age group as children – bringing its system in line with international law which demands states treat people under 18 as children.

Last year, Shauneen Lambe, executive director of Just Kids for Law, spoke about the incident involving the 12-hour police detention of the 17-year-old in a Battersea station police cell.

“In the case we are bringing, the child specifically asked officers to inform his mother of his arrest and ask for her assistance but this did not happen”, she told The Guardian.

“17-year-olds can be held in police stations for up to 24 hours, sometimes without their parents knowing. It's only in police stations now that they are treated like adults. We want an appropriate adult to be there with them.

“Young people can be traumatised by their experiences at the police station and the role of the appropriate adult is to ensure and monitor the child's wellbeing”, Lambe added.

The Home Office maintains that the existing law ensures a satisfactory level of care for all individuals taken into police custody.

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