High Court ruling on Just for Kids Law’s ‘No child in cells’ campaign about the lack of secure accommodation for children.

The High Court has ruled today on Just for Kids Law’s challenge to the lack of secure accommodation for children in London.
16 Mar 2020

Just for Kids Law brought a legal challenge against the London Borough of Waltham Forest – with Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Sam Jacobs from Doughty Street Chambers acting for the charity -  for failing to provide secure accommodation for children, who are kept overnight in police cells due to a shortage of appropriate accommodation.

The case concerned a child who was held overnight for two nights by the Metropolitan Police. Waltham Forest were contacted after the first night and were unable to provide him with suitable accommodation.

Despite Waltham Forest local authority accepting in court that the current system is ‘unsatisfactory’,[1] the court dismissed the claim, stating that it ‘is really a complaint about the nationwide lack of secure accommodation available to all local authorities due to the absence of funding by Central Government.’[2]

Just for Kids Law is disappointed by the ruling, as the charity argued that local authorities in London need to more effectively work together to solve the lack of accommodation. Just for Kids Law is also urging central government to do more to support local authorities to meet their duties, and to safeguard the rights of children in the capital and beyond. 

Enver Solomon, CEO of Just for Kids Law, said:

‘We are very disappointed by today’s court ruling as the Home Office recognises that police cells are traumatic, inappropriate places for children, yet the practice of detaining them overnight continues. The deeply damaging and unlawful practice must come to an end. The government urgently needs to work with local authorities to enable them to comply with their legal duties to provide safe, secure accommodation for children who are detained by the police.’

Since 2016 Just for Kids Law has brought a series of legal challenges against police forces and local authorities concerning the detention of children in police cells overnight as part of our No Child In Cells campaign. Last year over 7,000 children in London were held overnight in police cells. Just for Kids Law has been campaigning since 2016 to reduce the number of children held overnight, and have brought a series of legal challenges against local authorities. 

Police have a duty to transfer children to local authority accommodation once charged with an offence, to avoid them spending more time in police cells. 

Just for Kids Law is concerned that local authorities often fail to provide accommodation in these circumstances. Of the children held overnight in 2019, over 1,000 of them were there post-charge, when they should have been in local authority accommodation.

One of the problems is that there is no secure accommodation in London - Just for Kids Law believes that the nearest place to London is a secure home in Lincolnshire. This makes it nearly impossible to move a child to a secure home in time, leaving hundreds of children to spend a night in police cells. 

The Home Office’s concordat on the use of police custody for children states:

‘A night in a cell is an intimidating experience. Police custody facilities are designed to detain adults suspected of criminal activity, and they offer little in the way of comfort or emotional reassurance. For a child – especially one deprived of familial support – a prolonged stay in this environment can be harmful.’

Notes to Editors:

  1. Under the Children Act 1989 the local authority must provide accommodation when requested to do so by the police. Local authorities must have a ‘reasonable system’ in place to provide secure accommodation. 
  2. Just for Kids Law will argue that a system that can only decline requests for secure accommodation, such as that maintained by Waltham Forest, cannot be deemed a ‘reasonable system’ as required by current legislation. Instead, it highlights the longstanding shortage of secure accommodation and the failure to meet requests for secure accommodation for young people.
  3. The Home Office concordat on the use of policy custody for children is available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/655222/Concordat_on_Children_in_Custody_ISBN_Accessible.pdf


[1] ‘On the application of AR v London Borough Of Waltham Forest’, CO/1324/2019, High Court of Justice (2020),  para. 63

[2] ‘On the application of AR v London Borough Of Waltham Forest’, CO/1324/2019, High Court of Justice (2020),  para. 72