Appeal Court rules that removal of a child's clothes in police custody is a strip search

Thursday 19 February 2015

The issues for the Court of Appeal were whether the safeguards of Annex A applied to the removal of clothes from a child for the purposes of preventing self-harm

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In a judgment handed down this morning, the Court of Appeal has held that PACE Code C, Annex A on strip searches applies to children searched in custody.

Maya Sikand (who did not appear in the court below) acted for the Appellant. Felicity Williams and Joanne Cecil acted on behalf of the interveners Just for Kids Law and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England.

The issues for the Court of Appeal were whether the safeguards of Annex A applied to the removal of clothes from a child for the purposes of preventing self-harm and, if that applied, whether Article 8 (right to private and family life) was breached. The Chief Constable of Merseyside Police argued that the removal of clothes was not a search and that Annex A did not apply. The Court found that such a search did fall within the scope of Annex A. In accordance with the findings of fact by the Court below, the Court held that, applying Annex A, there had been no breach of Article 8 as the code had been applied to the letter and the appeal was dismissed. The Court nevertheless expressed concern:

"that it should have been thought appropriate immediately to remove the clothes of a distressed and vulnerable 14 year old girl without thought for alternative and less invasive measures to protect her from herself”.

The Court recognised the special position of children under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, including their right to privacy (Article 16), protection from maltreatment (Article 19), and protection of their sense of dignity and worth (Article 40). The judgment highlighted the vulnerability of children in custody and that “special care is required to protect their interests and well being”, further approving the international law analysis in R (HC) v SSHD [2013] EWHC 982 (Admin).

The judgment is available here. This case has been reported by The Guardian here and here, and in the local press.

Maya Sikand was instructed by James Murray Solicitors.

Felicity Williams and Joanne Cecil represented Just For Kids Law and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England.

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