The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has issued new guidance to police forces in the UK regarding the treatment and detention of 17-year-olds in custody.

The guidance follows a High Court ruling where it was agreed that the treatment of 17-year-olds as adults in custody was unlawful.  Under the old rules, 17-year-olds were not automatically entitled to have an appropriate adult with them for the purposes of interview, whereas those aged 16 and under would be provided with one.

The attendance of an appropriate adult is a vital part of the process in terms of youth detentions in custody — and, indeed, for those suffering from mental-health problems.  The role is designed to ensure that the detained young person understands what is happening, to protect his or her interests, and to facilitate communication between the young person and the police.  The appropriate adult is not there to provide legal advice but will usually be the young person’s parent or guardian.  However, representatives from Social Services, Youth Offending teams and other outside organisations also fulfil this role when necessary.

Under the new guidance, on the young person’s arrival in custody the police will follow the same procedures in obtaining an appropriate adult for that person as they do for those aged 16 and under.  Once the appropriate adult has arrived, the young person’s rights should be repeated in the presence of the appropriate adult, and the young person can then make the choice as to whether the appropriate adult should remain for the purposes of the interview or not.

Being arrested can be a distressing experience, and this is even more so when young people are detained at a police station.  Those who have limited experience of being arrested often refuse legal advice as they wrongly believe that, if they have a solicitor, that solicitor will be working for the police.  Appropriate adults are therefore often the primary safeguard in ensuring that the young person’s welfare is being properly safeguarded, and the removal of this anomaly, distinguishing 17-year-olds from those younger, can only be welcome in ensuring that young people can be reassured and looked after when they are often at their most vulnerable.

Our experienced Criminal Defence team routinely deals with young people of all ages, both at police stations and in the Youth Court.  If you require any advice or assistance as a result of being arrested yourself, or if you wish to enquire about legal representation on behalf of a young person, you can contact our Criminal Defence team by e-mail at or, if you require urgent assistance outside office hours, by calling our emergency number: 07876 687 587