The court decided that the Home Secretary had erred in not amending legislation so that 17 year olds in police custody would be treated as children rather than (as at present) as adults. The case achieved much public interest partly as a result of the suicide of 2 young Manchester boys after spells in police custody of which their parents had not been told.
For most of the recent past 17 year olds were treated as adults by the criminal justice sytem. At the police station therefore they were not entitled to an appropriate adult and at the courts they were dealt with in the adult court not the Juvenile Court.
The position at court altered around 15 years ago when the Juvenile Court became known as the Youth Court and expanded its remit to include 17 year olds. Bizarrely the government of the day did not amend the position at police stations. Hence the present anomaly where parents are not allowed into the police station to assist a 17 year old child and yet are required to attend court days later for that same child for the same case!
Hopefully the government will now follow-as soon as possible the recommendation of the court to amend the age at which a detainee is to be treated as an adult to comply with the requirements of the Human Rights Act.
In the meantime ACPO has responded with guidance for its custody officers. The difficulty for the police is that the law has not as yet been altered and therefore an appropriate adult cannot be forced upon a 17 year old detainee. The solution found is that custody officers are advised to offer an appropriate adult to any 17 year old in custody but ultimately the choice is left to the detainee.
Robert Moussalli, Youth Court Solicitor, Burton Copeland Solicitors.