A night in a cell is an intimidating experience. Police custody facilities are designed to detain adults suspected of criminal activity, and they offer little in the way of comfort or emotional reassurance. For a child – especially one deprived of familial support – a prolonged stay in this environment can be harmful.
Home Office Concordat on Children in Custody
Just one night in a police cell can be the trigger to pull a child into the current of crime. However, they shouldn’t ever find themselves there. The law recognises that police cells are traumatic, inappropriate places for children and that police forces and local authorities have a duty to transfer children to more appropriate settings. Unfortunately the official guidance is not always followed, and too often children end up spending the night in police cells when they have been arrested.
This is why we have been campaigning for change since 2016, bringing a series of legal challenges against this practice. Our strategic litigation campaign led local councils, including the London Borough of Islington, to review their policies on the treatment of children in police custody.
In October 2017 the UK government introduced national guidance for police forces and local authorities in England on their responsibilities towards children in custody. The Home Office Concordat on Children in Custody makes clear that police cells are inappropriate places for children that should only be used to hold children for short periods of time when no alternative is available.
Since this guidance was published, there has been a reduction in the number of children being held overnight in police cells. We do however still come across cases where children are held in police cells for lengthy periods, which is why we are continuing to push police forces and local authorities to sign up to the Concordat and follow the law and official guidance. We will carry on with our campaign until no child suffers the trauma of a night in a police cell.