Law changed to protect 17 year olds in police custody

Following a successful campaign led by three bereaved families and the charity Just for Kids Law, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) is to be changed in order to extend vital safeguards to 17 year olds in police detention.


Doughty Street barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher, Martha Spurrier and Kate O’Raghallaigh  have been acting for the charity and the families in this ‘Still a Child at 17’ campaign. 


The change was made on Monday 10 November 2014, when the Earl of Listowel tabled an amendment to PACE during the third reading of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.  The amendment revises the definition of ‘arrested juvenile’ in PACE, to include all those aged under 18 instead of only those aged between 12 and 16. 


The Home Secretary and the Government had previously opposed this change.  However yesterday they conceded the issue and agreed to support the amendment.  The policing Minister, Mike Penning MP, informed BBC Radio 5 Live of their change of position.


 This marks a profound change in the way that 17 year olds are treated within the criminal justice system. 


Background: Still a Child at 17 


This legal action comes one year after successful action was brought against the Home Secretary by a 17 year old, Hughes Cousins-Chang, who was represented by Caoilfhionn Gallagher.  who was represented by Caoilfhionn Gallagher.  His claim was backed by Just for Kids Law.  In R (HC) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2013] EWHC 982 (Admin) [2013] EWHC 982 (Admin); [2014] 1 W.L.R. 1234; [2013] Crim. L.R. 918; [2013] A.C.D. 94 the Divisional Court ruled that the Home Secretary had acted unlawfully in failing to amend the Codes of Practice issued under PACE to ensure that 17 year olds in police custody were treated as children, including in particular being provided with Appropriate Adults.  Hughes Cousins-Chang’s case resulted in a change to the law in October 2013, when a new PACE Code C was issued.  This ensured that the 70,000 – 75,000 17 year olds held in police custody every year benefitted from additional safeguards.     


Overnight Detention


Although PACE Code C was amended after the HC case, there remained significant anomalies in how 17 year olds were treated in the primary legislation itself, PACE.  There was particular concern about overnight detention of 17 year olds in police cells.  Prior to this week’s amendment to s.38 of PACE, 17 year olds had no right to be transferred to local authority care overnight. This protection was available to all other children aged 16 and under who were being held after arrest.


Just for Kids Law continued to lobby for wider change, supported by many other organisations, including the National Appropriate Adults Network and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice.  


Eddie, Joe and Kesia


Hughes Cousins-Chang’s case was supported by the parents of two 17 year olds who took their own lives following their treatment as adults by police, Eddie Thornber and Joe Lawton.  After the PACE Codes were changed, they continued to call on the Home Secretary to provide 17 year olds held in the police station with all of the protections that younger children are entitled to.


The Lawtons and Thornbers were then joined in their campaign by the family of Kesia Leatherbarrow. Kesia was a vulnerable 17 year old, who killed herself in December 2013, after being arrested and held in a police cell for three days.


In July 2014 all six parents wrote personally to Theresa May MP calling on her to take urgent action to prevent any more children of this age coming to harm. The parents also suppored Just for Kids Law, who notified the Home Secretary of their intention to bring judicial review proceedings against her for failing to act.  More detail is available here:


Kesia’s parents began a petition to secure greater protection for 17 year olds. Over 29,000 people supported the call for change. 


Change to Law


The change to PACE has been widely welcomed.  The Earl of Listowel paid tribute to the three families and to all those who had worked on the legal cases and campaigned for change.  He thanked the Doughty Street Chambers Public Law team for their advice and support.


Further Information


For further background see:

« Back to listing

About cookies on our website

Following a revised EU directive on website cookies, each company based, or doing business, in the EU is required to notify users about the cookies used on their website.

Our site uses cookies to improve your experience of certain areas of the site and to allow the use of specific functionality like social media page sharing. You may delete and block all cookies from this site, but as a result parts of the site may not work as intended.

To find out more about what cookies are, which cookies we use on this website and how to delete and block cookies, please see our Which cookies we use page.

Click on the button below to accept the use of cookies on this website (this will prevent the dialogue box from appearing on future visits)