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Police forces and chief constables are required by section 11 of the Children Act 2004 to ensure they discharge their functions having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (PDF) (UNCRC), which the UK has signed and ratified, requires that arrest, detention or imprisonment of children shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time (Article 37). Article 3 also states that when any decision is made in respect of a child the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

The primary legislation on the treatment of suspects in police custody, including children, is Part IV of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). This is supported by the statutory guidance set out in PACE Code of Practice C for the Detention, Treatment and Questioning of Persons by Police Officers.

PACE requires that anyone who appears to be under 18 is treated as a child in the absence of clear evidence that they are older. PACE refers to children as juveniles.

In addition to the rights available to suspects of all ages detained in police custody, children have certain other rights. For further details see the Library’s briefing on Police powers: detention and custody and the Home Office’s Notice of rights and entitlements from August 2019.


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