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Children’s protections in custody must be reinstated, campaigners say

Article 39 and The Howard League for Penal Reform have written to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland, criticising what they call a dilution of children’s legal protection in custody as a result of COVID-19.

07/09/21

Children’s protections in custody must be reinstated, campaigners say

The heads of two charities have written to the Justice Secretary to demand that children’s protections in custody be reinstated.

Frances Crook OBE and Carolyne Willow, of the Howard League for Penal Reform and Article 39 respectively, say that important legal protections regarding education and family visits for children in custody were ‘watered down’ and must now be reinstated as the country has lifted coronavirus restrictions.

“With the majority of coronavirus restrictions lifted within the community, vaccinations now available for teenagers aged 16 and 17, and schools re-opening, we write to ask that the statutory instruments made in May and July 2020 be revoked, and children’s entitlements to education and family visits be reinstated,” the letter read.

In May last year, the Prison and Young Offender Institution (Coronavirus) (Amendment) (No.2) Rules 2020 reduced the requirements for the provision of education and family visits for children detained in young offender institutions. In July that same year, the Secure Training Centre (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020, explained that children’s rights to time outside of their cell could be reduced to a minimum of 1.5 hours per day, down from 14 hours.

“There is no possible justification for the temporary amendments to the rules introduced by the two statutory instruments to remain in place,” the campaigners argue. They add that the accompanying explanatory memorandum that they say permits children in custody be kept in solitary confinement is unlawful and “sends out the wrong message” to those charged with the care of children in prison.

The campaigners also criticise an apparent omission by the Ministry of Justice in carrying out children’s rights impact assessments or equality impact assessments before making the emergency changes to legislation.

Last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson acted unlawfully in failing to consult children’s rights organisations before making changes to legal protections for children in care in England. The criticisms made in the letter to the Justice Secretary echo those made against Williamson last year – with both pertaining to amendments made through secondary legislation, and children’s rights charity Article 39 leading the charge against the Government departments enacting the changes.

The Ministry of Justice has been asked to comment.

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