HC Deb 14 May 1984 vol 60 cc104-7

'(1) An intimate search of an arrested juvenile may only be carried out in accordance with section 49 of this Act and

  1. (a) by way of examination by a registered medical practitioner; and
  2. (b) in the presence of any person required to be informed of his detention under section 51 of this Act, or in their absence another adult who is not a police officer, save where the young person specifically requests that the intimate search be carried out in private.

(2) Nothing in this Act shall permit the intimate search of a young person who has not attained the age of 14 years.'.

Mr. Corbett

This is our first opportunity on Report to consider juveniles. As the report of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure in 1981 made clear, a fairly large percentage of children and young people of 16 or under are involved in criminal offences. The report said that 36 per cent. of those found guilty of, or cautioned for, indictable offences in 1978 were children of 16 or under.

The report recognised the special position of juveniles and said: The Administrative Directions provide that juveniles should so far as practicable be interviewed only in the presence of an adult who should be one of their parents if possible. It made some other important points and said: a parent has a right to know where his child is and to be with his child during an interview. It added It is, in our view, essential that a juvenile should have an adult present other than the police, when he is interviewed and it is highly desirable that the adult should be someone in whom the juvenile has confidence, his parent or guardian, or someone else he knows, a social worker or school teacher. It is particularly important to note that the report said that juveniles may need the support of an adult presence; of someone to befriend, advise and assist them to make their decisions.

Clause 48, which the new clauses seek to amend, provides for the searches of juveniles in what I still regard as the curious category of detained persons —children and young people aged between 10 and 16. Clause 48(7) provides that where property is seized as a result of a search the person concerned should be told the reason for the seizure unless he is incapable of understanding what is said to him". That may apply to some juveniles because of their fear or apprehension about what is happening and the circumstances in which the search takes place.

The new clauses have been tabled against the background of a general attempt to underline and strengthen the role of parents in exercising responsibility for their children. The Children's Legal Centre kindly reminded us that during consideration of the Criminal Justice Bill in another place Lord Trefgarne said for the Government: The family is the first and foremost influence for good or ill on a child's development. It is of the highest importance that parents exercise their influence for good. They must be supported in this by law. The responsibility which parents have is one of the weightiest of the citizen." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 June 1982; Vol. 432, c. 99.] The House would be well advised to keep that in mind when considering these two clauses.

New clause 14 seeks to get the approval of a senior police officer before a juvenile is searched. We have made it clear that far too many juveniles are regrettably involved in criminal offences, but we do not want to do anything to make that situation any more terrifying than it often will be for a juvenile, or to assist in any way in so conducting searches that we make a contribution to criminalising what are, after all, children. Every effort should be made to divert and discourage juveniles caught up in this process from criminality and being involved in crime, often at the behest of adults, rather than to terrify them in a way likely to encourage them to go further down this slippery slope.

We are seeking to provide that, when it is decided that clothing should be removed, it will be done only in the presence of a parent or guardian or another adult if the parent or guardian is not available—we must provide for that circumstance—and the other adult must not be a police officer. This must make sense for juveniles because in any circumstances—this is true for adults as well—the process of being stripped in a police station must of necessity be a humiliating experience except for the most hardened and persistent criminals. The Bill should not go out of its way to add to that feeling and to top it up with a sense of shame, because that is not a proper way to go through the process of ascertaining whether somebody should be charged, or, if charged, whether that charge should be proceeded with.

New clause 15 concerns body searches, which are what the Royal Commission on criminal procedure called very serious intrusions upon the person". That might rate as the understatement of the decade. The same point applies in favour of this new clause As those of us who were able to serve on the Committee know, this matter was of particular concern to the National Association of Probation Officers, which has some experience of these matters, although it was not alone in raising this subject.

New clause 15 seeks to provide that, when initmate searches are carried out, it should not be done unless there is present a parent or guardian, or if they are not available another person who is not a police officer. We are talking here about circumstances that are distasteful—this view must be shared by all hon. Members. It will be possible in certain circumstances for the most intimate body searches to be carried out on children of 10 or 11, both boys and girls. Those of us who have some respect far the commonly held view that we are a civilised society, are proud of that, and like it to be known should be cautious about even considering these intimate searches to be carried out in the first place, but if they have to be done the arguments about straight searches are reinforced and underlined by the circumstances, in which, as the Royal Commission said, the support of a parent or guardian or of an adult known to the juvenile is all the more important.

We are trying in the new clauses to do two things. The first is, in difficult circumstances, to deal as sensitively as possible with people who are still children and who are, at that stage of the process, entitled to be regarded as innocent children, because they have not yet appeared before the court. It behoves us to be doubly careful and cautious about the way in which innocent children are dealt with when they have to be searched or when intimate body searches have to be carried out.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that when the Bill deals with the question of the treatment of juveniles and younger children we must tread very carefully. I share his concern that adequate protection should be given to juveniles in police custody. I believe that, in various ways, the Bill and the codes of practice will achieve that aim.

I am not happy about either new clause 14 or new clause 15. After our discussions in Committee, the hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that. New clause 14 is not practicable. It would require the authority of a superintendent before clothing could be removed. A superintendent would have to be permanently on hand at each police station to endorse the custody officer's decision to get a 16-year-old to take his jacket off. Whether or not a search is necessary and, if so, how thorough it should be, are bread-and-butter decisions for the custody officer. They are his responsibility. It is only when the question of an intimate search arises that a superintendent needs to be consulted. The Bill draws the line there, for obvious reasons.

I wonder whether, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman would believe it to be right or practicable to require that a search involving the removal of clothing should take place only in the presence of a parent or other responsible adult, unless the juvenile concerned agrees to the contrary. Under clause 51 of the Bill and paragraph 3.6 of the latest draft of the code of practice for the detention of persons, it is required that the parent or guardian of a juvenile who is arrested should be informed of the fact as soon as possible and asked to go to the police station. However, that may take some time. In the real world, parents may be at work, or perhaps they cannot be bothered to go. The police then have to get in touch with the social services department or some other responsible adult. That is right, but it takes time. Is it reasonable to expect the police to refrain from searching a juvenile who has a record of violence and may be known to have the habit of carrying a knife, until an independent adult can be found?

Mr. Corbett

I hope that the Minister has made a slip of the tongue. At the stage of the process that we are considering the juvenile is entitled to be presumed innocent with regard to the matter on which he is being held, whatever the record may show.

Mr. Hurd

Exactly, but that is not a reason why he should not be searched for a knife. I have not assumed that the juvenile is guilty or could be deemed to be guilty. That is not in question.

The new clause does not distinguish between strip searches and searches involving only the removal of outer clothing. That is a real distinction which is catered for in annex A of the latest draft of the detention code, which says: A strip search—a search involving the removal of more than outer clothing—may take place only if this is thought by the custody officer to be necessary to remove an article which the detained person would not be allowed to keep". That is a general provision — it does not apply specifically to juveniles. Paragraph 7 requires a record to be made. That latest provision of the draft code strengthens the safeguards of earlier ones and provides a reasonable distinction between outer clothing and what is called strip seaching. That is helpful to the hon. Gentleman, with his anxiety for juveniles.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's choice of words in new clause 15—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.