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UNCRC report raises concerns for children in the criminal justice system

The UN Committee on the Rights of a Child have issued their concluding observations on children’s rights in the UK. The report raises serious concerns at the state of children’s rights in the UK and encourages it to bring  its domestic  legislation in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child.


The UN Committee on the Rights of a Child have issued their Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This is their first report on children’s rights in the UK since 2008.

The main areas of concern for children in the criminal justice system include:

    • The minimum age of criminal responsibility, currently 8 in Scotland and 10 in England;
    • The  number  of  children  in  custody  remains  high,  with  disproportionate representation of ethnic minority children, children in care, and children with psycho-social disabilities, and detention is not always applied as a measure of last resort;
    • Access to education and health services,  including mental  health services,  is insufficient for children in custody;
    • Segregation,  including  solitary  confinement,  is  sometimes  used  for  children in custody, including in Young Offending Institutions.
      It made 150 recommendations for the UK with a number relating to the criminal justice system, including:

      • Raise  the  minimum  age  of  criminal  responsibility  in  accordance  with acceptable international standards;
      • Ensure that children in conflict with the law are always dealt with within the  juvenile  justice  system  up  to  the  age  of  18,  and  that  diversion  measures  do  not appear in children’s criminal records;
      • Abolish  the  mandatory  imposition  of  life  imprisonment  for  children  for offences committed while they are under the age of 18;
      • Establish  the  statutory  principle  that  detention  should  be  used  as  a measure  of  last  resort  and for  the  shortest  possible  period  of  time
      • and  ensure  that detention is not used discriminatorily against certain groups of children;
      • Ensure  that  child  detainees  are  separated  from  adults  in  all  detention settings;
      • Immediately remove all children from solitary confinement, prohibit the use  of  solitary  confinement  in  all  circumstances,  and  regularly  inspect  the  use  of segregation and isolation in child detention facilities.

      The report recommends that the UK introduce  a  “statutory  obligation  at  national  and  devolved  levels  to systematically  conduct  a  child  rights  impact  assessment  when  developing  laws and policies affecting children, including in international development cooperation” and “[p]ublish  the  results  of  such  assessments  and  demonstrate  how  they  have been taken into consideration in the proposed laws and policies”.

      Read the full report here.


      The report makes specific reference to the best interests of the child. The UN Committee said that it “regrets that the right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration is still not reflected in all legislative and policy matters and judicial decisions affecting children, especially in the area of alternative care, child welfare, immigration, asylum and refugee status, criminal justice, and in the armed forces. Furthermore, in some Overseas Territories, there is no legal provision to guarantee this right.”

      Some of the issues raised by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) and other children’s charities were included in the UN report, see the CRAE press release here.

      Louise King, Director of CRAE said:

      “The UN’s verdict on the UK’s treatment of children should act as a wake-up call that much more needs to be done to prioritise children’s rights in England. We want the Government to show leadership and take concerted action to address the UN’s concerns. To ensure a fresh focus on children, a senior, Cabinet-level minister must be given responsibility for putting children’s rights where they should be – at the heart of all government decision-making. ”