Friday, August 21, 2009

Stop criminalising children

Above By Banksy
at Glastonbury

Instead of stopping and searching children under the age of 10, perhaps police should be treating them as victims.

In light of the Jadan Shepherd case – a nine-year-old boy stopped and searched by police in south London – the Children's Rights Alliance for England is calling on the Home Office and the police to develop guidelines for dealing with younger children, especially those under the age of 10.

Let's be clear, it is right and proper that the police have powers to stop and search. Exceptionally, where the circumstances and intelligence would justify it, this may at times include children under 10. However, the issue here is not so much about whether the police should have such powers as how they choose to conduct them. The police themselves have welcomed the opportunity to clarify practice in this particularly sensitive area, in which some quite young children could be exploited or enticed into crime by young people and adults.

The police need to consider whether a more appropriate approach to stopping and searching children under the age of 10 would be to treat them as potential victims of crimes, as opposed to criminals. Last year, 939 children under 10 were stopped and searched by the Metropolitan police, including 58 who were searched using counter-terror powers designed to fight al-Qaida, none of 939 were arrested.

This is because the age of criminal responsibility in this country is 10 and, therefore, it is not actually possible in English law for children below that age to commit a crime. However, young children are very impressionable and it is hard to see why it would be in anyone's interest, including the police themselves, for the police to deal with children of this age in a way that is unlikely to gain their lasting trust and confidence. That is important both for fostering good future citizenship and for promoting better working relations between themselves and the police.

Last year, the Metropolitan police stopped and searched 157,290 people, but only had cause to arrest 1,200 of them. The Home Office is right in saying that stop and search is "a powerful tool in helping to prevent and disrupt crime". However, on the basis of its own statistics it would also appear to be a rather discriminatory and largely ineffective tool.

Whatever the merits of stopping and searching young children, it is surely not unreasonable to expect that, unless it would pervert the course of justice, safeguarding or security to do otherwise, there should be a presumption of good practice that the police would make reasonable attempts to contact a parent, guardian or "appropriate adult" immediately or as soon as is practicably possible.

We want our children to grow up respecting the forces of law and order, not to be traumatised by their experience of unfair treatment by the police at a very young and impressionable age.

Source: The Guaridan

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