It’s the knock on the door that most parents fear. Thankfully, the Courts have provided some valuable guidance about this nightmare scenario. There are many reasons the police may want to speak to your child, but few occasions where the reason might be urgent enough to justify an unannounced visit and an arrest.
The High Court considered this kind of a scenario recently, in a case known as ‘ST’, where a 14-year-old boy had been arrested at 5.30am in his family home and then detained at the police station for six hours in an adult cell (ST v Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police  EWHC 1280 (QB)). The court criticised the conduct of the police before, during, and after the arrest in unequivocal terms. There is a clear set of principles that ought to guide the conduct of the police in this area, some of which were affirmed in the case of ‘ST’:
- An arrest must be lawful. A police officer can arrest a person without a warrant if they honestly suspect, with reasonable grounds, that the person has committed an offence, and honestly believe, with reasonable grounds, that arrest is necessary to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence.
- The police should consider what is in the best interests of your child. For the purposes of criminal law, a child is any person under the age of 18. Necessity to arrest does not mean desirability or convenience. For example, arresting a child at dawn because it is “convenient” for the officers’ shift pattern is not in the best interests of your child.
- The age of the suspect should be a central and obvious consideration for the police.
- A child’s welfare should be taken into account and alternatives to arrest considered.
- The timing and place of arrest are relevant considerations when arresting a child.
- If the police genuinely think they need to search relevant parts of your home to recover property they can:
- ask you for permission to do so – there are some occasions where despite the intrusion on your privacy and family life, the right answer could be to permit this; or
- obtain a search warrant from a court – this requires the police to explain and justify the necessity of the search and includes the checks and balances necessary to properly monitor the exercise of this power.
- Any necessary detention should be as a “last resort” and for the shortest time possible.
So, what should you do if the police do pay a visit? One of your first steps should always be to consult a solicitor and obtain appropriate legal representation. But while you’re waiting for a solicitor to get involved, above all, keep calm. This is easier said than done in stressful and emotive circumstances, of course, but remaining composed will help events unfold more smoothly and ease the situation for your child. Introducing yourself and asking the officers for their names and shoulder numbers is a good first step.
Consider whether it may be a good idea to ask the officers to turn on their body-worn video cameras, in order that a record is kept of what is said and done. You should only need to do this if the officers appear unwilling to listen, overly officious or rude. Police guidance says that, if asked, a police officer should in general agree to making a recording; you are in the best position to consider whether recording the events might give you extra comfort or make an already stressful situation more stressful.
Ask the officers to explain why it’s considered necessary to arrest your child. If the answer is that they need to do so in order to conduct a search, it may be worth considering whether to provide permission voluntarily to allow them to search relevant parts of your home. This may be preferable to arresting your child in order for the police to have the legal authority to search (but remember that the search should only be of the parts of your home that are exclusive to your child or reasonably relevant to the offence the police are investigating).
If instead they want to arrest your child in order to bring them to the police station for interview, think about whether you would be happy to bring your child to the police station, now or at a later time, for a voluntary interview. If so, make this very clear to the police. In short explain, why you think an arrest is not necessary at this stage.
If you are already in touch with a trusted solicitor, call them while the police are there. Kingsley Napley operates a 24-hour phone line through which you will be able to reach an experience member of our team. On several occasions, we have been able to support parents in persuading the police that it is not necessary to arrest the child immediately.