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Detention of children at the police station

The Home Office and the Department of Education have today published a letter signed by the ministers and sent to all Local Authorities in England reminding them of the duty to transfer children from the police station to local authority accommodation as required under section 38(6) Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and section 21(2)(b) Children Act 1989.

The letter requests local authorities work with their police service to:

  • accommodate children charged with an offence and denied bail;
  • avoid children being detained in police stations pending appearance at court;
  • be prepared to extend this procedure to 17-year-olds from October 2015.

Read the letter here.

All police station representatives should be aware of this guidance to police and local authorities. The Home Office and Department for Education are accepting that section 21(2)(b) Children Act 1989 places an “absolute duty” on local authorities to provide accommodation and acknowledges that this is not currently happening in practice: “The law is clear that there are very limited circumstances to justify the detention of children at police stations”.

This guidance has broader implications for all children in the criminal justice system. The Home Secretary and Education Secretary remind local authorities, the police and other agencies of the explicit requirement under section 11 of the Children Act 2004 “to safeguard and promote the welfare of all persons under the age of 18” and that “the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child demands that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all actions concerning the child.” The Ministers also recognise that “police custody can be a distressing experience and this is particularly so for children.”