Police must not treat 17-year-olds like adults, High Court rules in blow to Home Secretary"s custody rules

Police must not treat 17-year-olds like adults, High Court rules in blow to Home Secretary's custody rules
High Court rules that 17-year-olds must have the same protections as children in custodyTheresa May has opposed a change in the lawParents of children who committed suicide after run-ins with police

By
Matt Chorley, Mailonline Political Editor

PUBLISHED:

10:31 GMT, 25 April 2013

|

UPDATED:

11:22 GMT, 25 April 2013

Police must not treat 17-year-olds as adults when taken into custody under a High Court ruling today.

Teenager Hughes Cousins-Chang, who was arrested by Metropolitan Police but
subsequently found to be innocent, secured the legal victory over Home Secretary Theresa May.

The sixth-form college student from
south-east London was detained for more than 12 hours and strip searched at a police station after being suspected of a robbery. Outside court he said: ‘I am very pleased. It’s been a long journey.’

The legal victory was secured by Hughes Cousins-Chang, pictured today outside the High Court with Ann Thornber (right), the mother of Edward Thornber who committed suicide after a run-in with police

The legal victory was secured by Hughes Cousins-Chang, pictured today outside the High Court with Ann Thornber (right), the mother of Edward Thornber who committed suicide after a run-in with police

Under-16s are entitled to contact their parents or seek advice and assistance from an independent ‘appropriate’ adult but 17-year-olds are not given the same rights.

Two judges ruled today that the policy was ‘incompatible’ with human rights law.

Lord Justice Moses,
sitting with Mr Justice Kenneth Parker, said: ‘I conclude that it is
inconsistent with the rights of the claimant and his mother, enshrined
in Article 8 (of the European Convention on Human Rights) for the
secretary of state to treat 17-year-olds as adults when in detention.’

To do so ‘disregards the definition’
of a child in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the
‘preponderance of legislation affecting children and justice’, said the
judge.

Mr Cousins-Chang, from Tulse Hill, south London, is now aged 18. His mother is Carrlean Chang. Hughes brought today’s landmark challenge with the help of his uncle Christopher Chang.

The change in law has received backing from the Association of Chief Police Officers but is still rejected by Policing Minister Damian Green, Mr Lawton said.

The ruling follows the high profile
deaths of two 17-year-olds, Joe Lawton and Edward Thornber, who killed
themselves after getting into trouble with police.

The ruling marks a defeat for Home Secretary Theresa May who had opposed a change in the law

The ruling marks a defeat for Home Secretary Theresa May who had opposed a change in the law

Joe’s parents, Nick and Jane Lawton,
say that their son would ‘still be here today’ if he had received their
support when he was taken into custody for drink driving.

Joe,
from Stockport, Greater Manchester, was arrested when police stopped
him after he decided to drive his new car home from a party.

He
was kept overnight at Cheadle Heath police station in Greater
Manchester without his parents’ knowledge. Two days later he took his
own life, using the shotgun from the family farm.

The High Court ruled that 17-year-olds should be given the same protections as younger children, and not be treated as adults in custody

The High Court ruled that 17-year-olds should be given the same protections as younger children, and not be treated as adults in custody

Outside the court today an emotional Mrs Lawton
said: ‘We are obviously very pleased with the ruling. We knew right
from the first moment that if we had been there it could have all been
very different.

‘We are so pleased, but it is also tinged with such sadness and devastation.’

Mr Lawton, clutching a large
photograph of his son, said: ‘The judge did say that this law should
have been changed in 2010.’ He said all of their rights had been
‘breached’.

Mr Lawton stressed: ‘They need to
change this today. They need to get on the telephone right now. There
should be someone ringing every police station and telling them that
today, 17-year-olds have the right to have an appropriate adult.’

Ann Thornber, Edward’s mother, said her son had been sent a court summons ‘in error’ rather than a final warning for possessing 50p worth of cannabis.

Lacrosse star Edward, from Didsbury, Greater Manchester, was found hanged on September 15 2011.

Also holding a photograph of her son, Mrs Thornber said: ‘It’s just so
difficult. Obviously we are delighted that some good has come out of it,
but it’s not going to bring Joe or Edward back.

‘If it can stop another family going through the devastation we have been through, there has to be something positive.

‘The tragedy is that Edward and Joe
would still be here today if the law had been changed in 2010 but it
never happened and now we are suffering the consequences of that.’