Just for Kids Law and Children’s Rights Alliance for England, who jointly intervened in the case, welcome clarification of law.
The Court of Appeal has today (19 February) ruled that safeguards set out in PACE Code C must be followed by police, whenever a child or vulnerable adult is stripped.
The Judges noted that: ‘Children in custody are vulnerable and special care is required to protect their interests and wellbeing’.
The case of PD v Merseyside Police concerned a 14-year-old girl, with a history of mental illness, who had been a victim of sexual abuse. She was arrested in 2010, after being drunk and abusive outside a kebab shop; taken in handcuffs to Wirral police station; where she was forcibly stripped by three female officers. Her mother was not contacted until after her daughter had been stripped.
A lower court had agreed with the police that, because PD had been stripped out of concern she might use her clothes as a ligature rather than as part of a search for evidence, the safeguards set out in PACE Code C for ‘strip searching’ did not apply. The Court of Appeal found this to be wrong and said that ‘Annex A [of PACE Code C] should protect all those in custody whose clothing is removed’.
The appeal court added that: ‘Except in cases of urgency, where there is a risk of harm to the detainee or to others, an appropriate adult must be present (unless the detainee wishes the appropriate adult not to be present)’.
However, the Court of Appeal went on to reject PD’s claim that the Code had been breached in her case, ruling that her case was one of the rare cases where the police felt they had to act with urgency and therefore are not obliged to contact a child’s parents before stripping her.
Commenting on the circumstances of the case Lord Justice Pitchford stated:
‘I am bound to express concern that it should have been thought appropriate immediately to remove the clothes of a distressed and vulnerable 14 year old girl, without thought for alternative and less invasive measures to protect her from herself.’
Paola Uccellari, director of Children’s Rights Alliance for England, said:
‘Being stripped by someone in a position of power is inevitably a traumatic and distressing experience for a child. This measure must only be used as a last resort. If it’s being used as a matter of routine, or unnecessarily, it would breach a child’s human rights. Frighteningly, CRAE research shows that the numbers of children being stripped has doubled between 2008 and 2013. Over-reliance on this practice needs to be looked at as a matter of urgency.’
Shauneen Lambe, director of Just for Kids Law, said:
‘We were alarmed that a police force took the position that when a child is being stripped for their own protection, rather than looking for contraband, the same safeguarding protections did not apply and welcome this clarification from the Court of Appeal that they do. Along with CRAE we have asked the government to undertake a review of why there appears to be such an increase in children being stripped by the police.’
For more information, contact:
Fiona Bawdon or Caroline O’Dwyer, Just for Kids Law FionaBawdon@justforkidslaw.org CarolineO’Dwyer@justforkidslaw.org
020 3174 2279 mobile: 07984 095793
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
1. Just for Kids Law is an award winning charity which provides legal and other support to young people in difficulties with the law, and campaigns for improvements in youth justice.
2. The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) believes that human rights are a powerful tool in making life better for children. We’re one charity working with more than 150 members to promote children’s rights, making us one of the biggest children’s rights coalitions in the world. We fight for children’s rights by listening to what they say, carrying out research to understand what children are going through and using the law to challenge those who violate children’s rights. We campaign for the people in power to change things for children. And we empower children and those who care about children to push for the changes that they want to see.
3. Felicity Williams of Garden Court Chambers acted for JfKL and CRAE in the case pro bono.
4. Under PACE Code C any one under 18 being strip searched by police should have the following safeguards: the strip be conducted by an officer of the same gender; the strip should be conducted in private; they should have a parent or other appropriate adult with them.