Islington Council to review policy of holding children in police cells

Legal action as part of a campaign by Just for Kids Law prompts Islington Council into urgent review of children held in police cells overnight in the borough
25 Jul 2016

Islington council has a long standing poor track record for failing to accommodate children from the police station, but evidence shows that councils nationwide are routinely not complying with their legal duties, by failing to provide alternative accommodation for arrested children.

The legal action with lawyers Hodge, Jones and Allen and barristers from renowned human rights set, Doughty Street chambers, is part of Just for Kids Law’s ‘No child in cells’ campaign, launched today, calling for an end to the widespread practice of detaining children, some as young as eight, in adult cells.

The campaign includes a short video created by digital agency Adjust Your Set dramatising the impact and distress that being kept in a cell can cause children and their families.

Just for Kids Law, the award-winning charity, will also call on the new Secretary of State for Education and the Home Secretary to use their legal powers under the Children Act 1989, to mandate local authorities to comply with the law relating to children detained at the police station.

Just for Kids Law director Shauneen Lambe says:

‘A police cell designed for an adult is no place for a child. Everyone, from the new Prime Minister to the police lead for children, agrees that children and young people are particularly vulnerable and need to be kept safe after arrest – yet laws designed to protect them are being ignored up and down the country, every day of the year. It is particularly appalling that children as young as eight are being kept in cells overnight; often it is because Local Authorities are failing to accommodate them when asked to do so. That is why we have begun action against Islington Council; we will take similar steps against other local authorities, unless they start complying with their legal duties.’

The Islington case relates to a vulnerable 14 year old boy who was kept in a cell overnight on multiple occasions since March this year, because Islington failed to provide any alternative accommodation for him.

There is an ‘absolute duty’ under section 21(2)(b) of the Children Act 1989 for the local authority to provide accommodation when requested to do so by the police.

In response to a FOI request from Just for Kids Law, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that last year, Islington council received 94 requests from them to provide a bed for a child being held at the police station – yet they did not accommodate a single one of these children.

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said in a witness statement:

‘Custody suites are not designed to accommodate children….very few have facilities specifically for children; the environment is accordingly an intimidating one. Cell areas lack comfort and the provision of emotional support is almost entirely absent.’

In its formal response to the legal action, Islington council said it had: ‘decided to set up a formal review, which will have the remit to investigate, learn from and make recommendations in relation not only to the facts of the present case but also in relation to any wider issues there may be in Islington.’

Louise King, Director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), said:

“No child should be locked up in a police cell simply because alternative accommodation isn’t available. CRAE’s research has revealed that last year in London alone nearly 8,000 children were detained in police cells overnight – including three 11 year old girls. Police, local authorities and politicians urgently need to work together to put an end to this.”

Although the legal challenge is in London this is a nationwide issue. In 2011-12, 40,000 children – 800 a week – were detained at police stations overnight. *.

For more information contact Caroline O’Dwyer, carolineo’ 07984 095793 or Fiona Bawdon,; 020 3174 2279;

Notes for editors

  1. Just for Kids Law is a London-based, award-winning charity, which supports young people facing difficulties in their lives.
  2. CRAE merged into Just for Kids Law last year. They work with over 150 organisational and individual members to promote children’s rights, making them one of the biggest children’s rights coalitions in the world.
  3. Theresa May’s letter to local authorities in January 2015 can be found here:
  4. * (page 12)
  5. Section 38(6) of Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 states: Where a custody officer authorises an arrested juvenile to be kept in police detention under subsection (1) above, the custody officer shall, unless he certifies—(a)that, by reason of such circumstances as are specified in the certificate, it is impracticable for him to do so; or (b)in the case of an arrested juvenile who has attained the age of 12 years, that no secure accommodation is available and that keeping him in other local authority accommodation would not be adequate to protect the public from serious harm from him, secure that the arrested juvenile is moved to local authority accommodation.
  6. Section 21(2)(b) of the Children Act 1989 states that ‘every local authority must receive and provide accommodation for children whom they are requested to receive under section 38(6) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
  7. Legal representation has been provided by Hodge, Jones and Allen Solicitors and Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Mary-Rachel McCabe, barristers at Doughty Street Chambers.
  8. Adjust Your Set is a digital content agency – learn more about their work at
  9. Although many local councils are failing to accommodate children he