One of Greater Manchester’s most senior police officers has described the detention of children and young people overnight in Police cells as a “chronic breach” of the law.
Dawn Copley, Greater Manchester’s assistant chief constable, told MPs that detaining children overnight for a court appearance the next day was not just bad practice but also a sign that those involved in the practice did not consider the rights of children to be important.
The Howard League for Penal Reform made a Freedom of Information Act application, disclosed in October last year, and ascertained that children aged 17 and under were held overnight in Police cells on 40,716 occasions in 2011, indicating that the practice has become widespread.
Copley, who is also the Association of Chief Police Officer’s spokesperson on custody issues, told a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on children at Westminster that the issue had become one of great concern for the Police.
“The Police and Criminal Evidence Act is clear on this matter and states that if they are being kept in custody they should be transferred to the care of the local authority.
“But in practice we know that local authorities do not always have the accommodation available, and with shrinking resources I think this becomes a growing concern,” she told MPs.
“Too often, children and young people remain in custody overnight. The continued chronic breach of this legislative requirement is not only bad practice per se; subliminally it indicates to all involved in the process that children’s rights are not seen as important, and I’ve raised my concerns on this with the Home Office.”
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) specifies that if a child aged 10–16 is charged with an offence and denied bail, the Police are required (except under specific conditions) to transfer them to the local authority for accommodation, who have to accept them. However, this appears to rarely happen.
Previous reports surrounding the issue have concluded that, in practice, the reciprocal duty on the Police to transfer (under PACE) and “on the local authority to receive” (under the Children Act) has been reduced to a short (or no) call to local authority staff requesting secure accommodation followed by the now standard response that none is available.
Copley added that it was key for the Police and local authority children’s services to ensure better and more suitable provision was available and make it the exception rather than the norm for children to be detained in Police custody overnight. She argued that reminding both Police and local authorities’ children’s services that they had a “pretty clear” statutory duty to provide alternative accommodation would be a start:
“The norm has become an expectation that it [accommodation] won’t be provided and that’s not a good place for any of the agencies to be in and it’s definitely not a good place for young people to be in.”
National Children’s Bureau
Enver Solomon of the National Children’s Bureau stated that the most recent figures showed that nearly 800 children a week were being held overnight in Police stations across England and Wales. He commented:
“There has been a clear breakdown in the referral process between Police custody and local authority accommodation which needs to be urgently addressed.”
“Instead of trying to fix a system which is broken, the Government should review the current legal framework so that a new approach is adopted which looks at how bail can be used more effectively for children.6 Overnight stays in Police’s cells do far more harm than good and can result in tragic consequences. In the vast majority of cases a child should be returned home to their parents or carers. On rare occasions a place of safety will need to be provide.”