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Seventeen-year-olds in custody to be considered children

3rd Dec 2014

The High Court has ruled that seventeen-year-olds will no longer be classed as adults while in police custody, after three cases of suicide in as many years.

The decision was made at the High Court by Lord Justice Moses, a hard-fought victory for three families who campaigned alongside the children’s legal charity Just For Kids Law to have the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) redrafted.

The campaign was led by Martina Brincat Baines, whose daughter was found dead aged 17 after recently being released from police custody. Kesia Leatherbarrow was held in custody for three days and two nights after being arrested for cannabis possession and criminal damage. Baines began a petition online, calling for support on ending 17 year olds being treated as adults while in a police station. It gained almost 30,000 signatures in less than a week.

The similar cases of Joe Lawton and Eddie Thornber prompted their families to campaign alongside Baines. Lawton was found two days after being held overnight for drink-driving, the police charge sheet at his feet. His family had not been informed of his arrest. Likewise, Thornber’s family were not aware of his arrest for possession of 50 pence worth of cannabis, with a wrongly sent court summons found near his body.

In his judgement, Moses stated that it would be difficult to ‘imagine a more striking case’, and that it ‘demonstrates how vulnerable a 17 year old may be’. Baines was in the House of Lords to see the amendment passed, and said that she was pleased to see ‘Kesia’s Law’ put in place in order to ensure the same protection for 17 year olds as for children.

Shauneen Lambe, Just for Kids Law barrister and director, stated that the charity welcomed the decision to now treat 17 year olds ‘as children first and potential defendants second’, and that it was just a shame it took so long for the changes to come into place.