New UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Concluding Observations on the UK


In early June, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN Committee) published its Concluding Observations on the UK. While it recognised some areas of progress, it highlights a large number of areas where the UK needs to do much better if it is to meet its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which the UK ratified in 1991. The UN Committee specifically calls for “urgent measures to be taken” to take forward its recommendations in relation to the administration of child justice.


The UN Committee highlights its General comment No. 24 (2019) on children’s rights in the child justice system, reiterates its previous recommendations[1] and urges the State party to bring its child justice system fully into line with the UNCRC and other relevant standards. It sets out a number of recommendations on the youth justice system including:

  • To raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years of age;
  • To take legislative and other measures to ensure that: (i) children are not prosecuted as adult offenders, without exception; (ii) the child justice system is applied to all children who were below the age of 18 years when the offence was committed; (iii) rehabilitation periods are determined on the basis of the date the offence was committed, not the date of conviction; (iv) detention is used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible period of time and is reviewed on a regular basis with a view to its withdrawal; and (v) life imprisonment is abolished for children and young people who committed offences when they were below the age of 18 years;
  • To develop early intervention for children and actively promote non-judicial measures, such as diversion, mediation and counselling, for children accused of criminal offences and, wherever possible, the use of non-custodial measures for children, such as probation or community service
  • To ensure the provision, at an early stage of the procedure and throughout legal proceedings, of qualified and independent legal aid lawyers to children alleged to have or accused of or recognised as having infringed criminal law;
  • To repeal the practice of remanding children into police custody, ensure that no child is held in police custody overnight and avoid the use and reduce the maximum duration of pretrial detention;

The UN Committee also makes a number of references in relation to deprivation of liberty including:

  • To ensure that detention is used as a measure of last resort; that children are detained separately from adults; and that detention conditions are compliant with international standards, including with regard to access to education and health-care services, including mental health services;
  • To address the overrepresentation of children belonging to minority groups in detention and develop measures, in consultation with affected children and their families, to prevent racial profiling by law enforcement authorities;
  • To end the use of solitary confinement and ensure that any separation of the child from others is for the shortest possible time and is used only as a measure of last resort for the protection of the child or others and in the presence of or under the close supervision of a suitably trained staff member;

Other recommendations in relation to policing and youth justice include:

  • To ensure capacity-building for judges, prosecutors, police officers and other professionals, including in the overseas territories, on child-friendly justice procedures, children’s rights and the Convention;
  • Prohibit the presence of police in schools;
  • Take legislative measures to explicitly prohibit, without exception, the use of: (i) harmful devices, including spit hoods, plastic bullets and taser guns, attenuating energy projectiles and other electrical discharge weapons, against children; (ii) strip searches on children; and (iii) solitary confinement, isolation, seclusion and restraint as disciplinary measures in schools and alternative care and health-care settings;
  • Develop statutory guidance on the use of restraint on children to ensure that it is used only as a measure of last resort and exclusively to prevent harm to the child or others and monitor its implementation;
  • Regularly collect, analyse and publish disaggregated data on the use of stop-and-search checks, harmful devices, seclusion, restraint, solitary confinement and isolation on children;


The UN Committee calls for urgent reform of the child justice system so it respects children’s rights, including raising the mandatory age of criminal responsibility (MACR) to at least 14 years of age. England and Wales have the lowest MACR in Europe - at just 10 years old - and raising it has been a consistent recommendation of the UN Committee.  Other action called for in this area includes ensuring that deprivation of liberty is only used as a last resort and that the over representation of children in prison from Black and other minority ethnic groups (currently standing at 52%) is addressed. Given the many recent high profile media stories in relation to harmful interaction between children and the police, it won’t be surprising to hear that the UN Committee also calls for action to end Taser use and strip-searching on children and the detention of under-18s in police custody overnight.

Louise King, Director Children’s Rights Alliance for England


                     [1]   CRC/C/GBR/CO/5 and CRC/C/GBR/CO/5/Corr.1, para. 73 (c).