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Charity takes legal action after child held in custody for non-payment of fines

Campaign group the Howard League for Penal Reform is seeking permission for a judicial review of decisions by magistrates’ courts that led to a vulnerable child being held in police custody for two nights for non-payment of fines.

The charity said the 15-year-old boy, who cannot be named, was detained even though the courts do not have powers to order the arrest of a child for non-payment, since children lack the means to pay fines.

The issue arose last May, when a staff member at the children’s home where the boy lived called police saying he was acting aggressively.

A police national computer check found an outstanding arrest warrant for non-payment of £129 of fines.

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The boy said he thought home staff had made deductions from his pocket money to pay the fines off.

He was arrested and taken into custody, though after two nights in police detention he appeared in court and no further action was taken.

The Howard League said the child had been frightened and distressed, in particular as he suffered from “a constellation of mental health problems”.

It said it had worked with police to reduce the number of children being arrested but senior officers had raised concerns about their ability to prevent overnight detention where magistrates issued warrants for children not backed for bail.

League director Frances Crook said: “It is disappointing that a charity has to act on behalf of these children when the law is clear that there is no power to issue such warrants.

“Something is going terribly wrong when judicial processes lead to children being locked up for not paying fines that they have no means to pay. Urgent action is required to ensure this does not happen again.”

Mark Smulian

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