Victory for bereaved parents as ‘Kesia’s law’ is passed by the House of Lords

Arrested 17 year olds will no longer be detained at police stations overnight, following a campaign by families and award-winning charity Just for Kids Law.

Matt and Martina HoL petition

Matt and Martina Baines delivering their petition at the House of Lords

A last-minute amendment made to the Criminal Justice & Courts bill yesterday (10 November) finally closes an historic legal anomaly, which has been associated with the deaths of three 17 year olds in three years.

The change means that arrested 17 year olds who are held overnight now have the same rights to be transferred to local authority accommodation as younger children, rather than having to spend the night in police cells.

It follows a campaign led by Martina Brincat Baines, whose 17-year-old daughter Kesia was found dead in December 2013, shortly after being released from police custody, where she had been held for three days and two nights.

An online petition started by Ms Baines demanding an end to 17 year olds being treated as adults in the police station attracted nearly 30,000 signatures in under a week.

Matt and Martina Baines with members of Just for Kids Law team at House of Lords

Matt and Martina Baines with members of Just for Kids Law team at House of Lords (L-R: Mary-Rachel McCabe, Matt and Martina Baines, Shauneen Lambe, Fiona Bawdon)

Just for Kids Law worked closely on the campaign with Kesia’s parents, along with those of Eddie Thornber and Joe Lawton, two 17 year olds who previously killed themselves soon after being released from police custody (see notes for editors).

In 2013, JfK Law mounted a successful legal challenge, which forced the government to change the law to give 17 year olds the right to have an adult with them at the police station (see notes for editors).

This change was implemented in October 2013. However, following the death of Kesia and continued delays by government in closing all the remaining loopholes, which allow police to treat 17 year olds as adults, JfK Law began further judicial review proceedings.

Barristers from Doughty Street Chambers public law team, acted pro bono in the case (see notes for editors).

Martina Brincat Baines, who was in the House of Lords to see the amendment passed, said:

‘I am pleased and relieved that “Kesia’s Law” has been passed, and that 17 year olds will now have the same protections as younger children when they are in the police station. Kesia was extremely vulnerable and being kept in a police cell for so long would have had a devastating impact on her. She should have been moved to local authority care where someone could have looked after her properly. I hope that this legal change will prevent any other family suffering as we are.’

JfK Law barrister and director Shauneen Lambe said:

‘We welcome the government’s change of heart and the recognition that 17 year olds should be treated as children first and potential defendants second. It is just a shame that it took so long, and it was only after we had begun legal proceedings, a second time, that ministers finally acted.’

Lord Faulks, speaking on behalf of the government in the House of Lords said: ‘The effect of the amendment would be that 17 year-olds, as with 12 to 16 year-old children, must be transferred to suitable local authority accommodation overnight.’

For more information, contact Fiona Bawdon: 020 8211 0903; 07740 644474;; or Caroline O’Dwyer: 07745 798285; carolineo’

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. In 2013, Just for Kids Law acted for Hughes Cousins-Chang in the High Court case of HC v Home Secretary, which established that 17-year-olds in the police station must be allowed to have a parent or ‘appropriate adult’ with them.

3. In October 2013, in response to the HC ruling, the Home Secretary made changes to PACE code C (the codes which govern treatment of people in police stations) to give 17-year-olds the right to an appropriate adult. However, the government stopped short of amending the underlying legislation (Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984) which would have extended the full range of safeguards available to younger children to 17-year-olds, including protection under Section 38 of the act, which entitles arrested children to be held in local authority accommodation, rather than in police cells.

4. Kesia Leatherbarrow was arrested by Greater Manchester Police in December 2013 for possession of cannabis and criminal damage. She was kept in custody at Ashton Police Station over the weekend, before being sent to Tameside Magistrates Court on the Monday morning. Kesia was bailed, to return the following day when the Youth Court would be sitting. She was found dead soon afterwards.

5. Joe Lawton was arrested in August 2012 for drink-driving. He was held overnight in Cheadle Heath police station in Greater Manchester and his family was not informed. He killed himself two days later and had the police charge sheet at his feet when he was found.

6. Eddie Thornber was arrested for having 50p worth of cannabis in September 2011. His parents were not told of his arrest, and he agreed to accept a warning over the offence. He killed himself after wrongly being sent a court summons, which was found near his body.

7. Just for Kids Law was represented pro bono in the 2014 legal proceedings by Caoilfhionn Gallaher, Martha Spurrier and Kate O’Raghallaigh, all from Doughty Street Chambers.

8. On 10 November 2014, the government accepted an amendment tabled by the Earl of Listowel during the Criminal Justice & Courts bill third reading which changes the definition of ‘juvenile’ to anyone under the age of 18. The change puts arrested 17 year olds on the same legal footing as all younger children who cannot be detained overnight at the police station.